This Lawrenceville event this past Saturday was both nothing you'd ever seen before and -- if you'd heard about it ahead of time -- exactly what you'd have expected. Basically, it was a block party around an abandoned pool that happened to have 20 people playing accordions inside it.
Well, they didn't just happen to be there, of course: The afternoon shindig at the old Leslie Park pool was organized by neighborhood residents Susan Englert and Deb Knox. The idea was to spark imaginations about what might be done with the city-owned space, which had stood vacant and accumulating trash since 2003. Knox herself even stood in the empty drink with the other musicians, helping supply waltzes, polkas and tangos fordance performances and dance lessons.
It was about as down-to-earth (even partly below it) as an art event gets. The turnout was great: I estimated 300 on my arrival at 5 p.m., and around 6 p.m. Englert told me they'd handed out more than 400 programs (accordion-folded, naturally).
Most of the people milled around on the concrete deck or sat in folding chairs, watching the musiciansand dancers. As impressive as the turnout was the demographic and stylistic diversity of the dancers: toddlers to septugenarians; clean-cut dads paired with young daughters; shaggy-haired, skinny-jeans-wearing hipsters. Boys dancing with girls, and girls with girls, and boys with boys. (Visitors hailed from Lawrenceville and all over town; Englert, for one, praised the efficacy of church bulletins in turning out the crowds.)
The dance instructors included Rich Walters, a rather imposing fellow I know as a local attorney and actor. Wearing a bow tie and suspenders, he litingly called out the tango steps: "The cross is a good segue into the ocho movement ...Let us conTINue ... our line -- of -- dance ..."
From Cajun to Croatian, Polish to Mexican, the tunes went on from 3 to 7 p.m. Entrepreneur and character Michael "Zombo"Devine emceed. Englert and Knox plan to keep involved with the neighborhood meetings planned for fall to come up with other, perhaps more permanent uses for the site.