Making house a home

Sasha Tycko

A sonic blend of jazz, funk, blues, disco, soul and New Wave, the house music celebrated by the women of Honey Pot Performance is not the heavily-digitized music we think of today. Their inaugural show at the Experimental Station at 61st and Blackstone last Thursday attempted to recreate the energy and intimacy of the house scene the dancers grew up in.

The ’80s house culture that originated on the South Side extended far beyond music and parties, especially for dancers Media McNeal, Abra Johnson, Boogie McClarin, and Ni’Ja Whitson. It provided a safe outlet for youth grappling with issues of gender, sexuality, race, and class. Aptly named, house music served as a home for those who needed one. “The Chicago house culture,” Johnson said, “is one rooted in family.”

Led by McNeal, the group’s artistic director, the four women created the Sweet Goddess Project to bring more attention to the rise of women in the house scene, where more and more girls are becoming DJs, dancers, and promoters.

As the audience trickled in and took their seats, a DJ spun jazz records in the dim light of the corner. The small space of the Experimental Station added to the mellow party vibe.

Swathed in the soft blue and yellow light, the Honey Pot dancers flung themselves into the music with palpable energy. Though choreographed and well disciplined, the dancing had an improvisational air to it. The women writhed, twirled, glided and stomped around the floor, yet the diverse movements were rooted in rhythm and fluidity. In their dialogue and video clips that were interspersed throughout the performance, the women addressed big issues such as freedom, sexuality, consciousness, and exclusion. But with the varying pace of the dance and the shifting character of their movements–sometimes interlocking and moving as one unified mass of bodies, other times flitting around dizzily–they seemed to physically break out of the confines of these words and problems.

The audience bobbed along and yelped out catcalls, their own minor contributions to the lively atmosphere. Each dancer brought a personal element to her performance–in one solo, Johnson spoke aloud about her family’s relentless migration through the city in pursuit of better education and more security. Clutching her chest, she ended her monologue with the statement, “I want a home that wants me too.” House music was that home. The Honey Pot Performance will return to the South Side on December 18 at eta Creative Arts.