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Do The "Social Distance Dance"

Lucy Gellman | March 19th, 2020

Do The

Culture & Community  |  Poetry & Spoken Word  |  Aaron Jafferis  |  Arts & Culture  |  COVID-19

How do you greet someone when you’re supposed to maintain six feet of distance at all times? New Havener Aaron Jafferis has the answer: You dance it out.

Distantly.

Jafferis, a spoken word poet and playwright who founded The Word several years ago, offered up that answer Thursday in a new video that has gone viral in under 12 hours. Titled “social distance dance,” it urges viewers to fight the anxiety of social distancing by getting off their butts and dancing it out as a form of supporting friends, family members and loved ones. It is edited and produced by his partner TW, who also makes a cameo in the beginning and at the end. 

“My family made a dance video for your family,” he wrote on social media when he dropped the video. “Dance while you support people (with CTCORE-Organize Now, Mutual Aid/Support Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Haven and Surrounding Areas and Connecticut Bail Fund), and remember self-care is important. This is how we do it.”

In the video, Jafferis delivers the message with equal parts heart and humor. As his face fills the screen, he explains to his viewers that he’s been struggling with the six feet of space that social distancing now requires to guard against the spread of COVID-19. Like his viewers—presumably—he’s used to shaking hands and hugging it out. Now, he’s putting lives at risk if he does that. So are they.

“And that’s hard,” he says right into the camera. “It feels like in a time when we want to be human and connected, we have to be less so.”

The film cuts to him greeting his dad on a beach by the Long Island Sound, and then hugging and kissing his partner at home. With both of those options off the table, he suggests, there must be another way. A danceable way.

A just-cheesy-enough beat builds in the background. Snippets of video flip between Jafferis pseudo-rapping at his kitchen table and busting some of his silliest, most joyful moves on the beach.

His dad, the perfect dance partner, remains six feet away from him for most of the video. Both of them dance with their entire bodies. Arms lift. Butts shake. Hips make way for hula hoops that aren’t there. It is impossible to watch it and not smile.

To say hi or bye to someone we miss or love,/we used to shake, dap, kiss or hug.
Now we elbow tap, air hug, or give a wistful glance./No!
We need physical connection, so.../do the social distance dance.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance.

From the outset, it is also laced with laugh lines that stick their landing every time. Before he goes into the dance, Jafferis explains that handshakes are officially out, and the awkward elbow bumps that were okay a week ago aren’t really cutting it anymore. He suggests that foot taps are fine in theory, except that toddlers and elders might tip over when they do them. It's a laugh line that lands: his timing is in sync with his hands as they glide through the frame.

With its humor—which also comes in Spanish near the end of the video—Jafferis also delivers a message that mental health, economic relief, and community aid are all part of public health.

The organizations to which he directs viewers are, in many ways, all on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are working directly to counteract the fact that coronavirus has exposed a system in which capitalism, and not public health, has left people uninsured and at the economic margins when they may be at their most vulnerable. 

As he dances his support for the community, his smile and fluid, pumping arms become contagious. Before ending the video, he suggests that viewers record their own dances and translate the lyrics into different languages, spreading a message of self-care across New Haven and beyond.

“This is an invitation to you, family, to create your own videos of you doing a social distance dance,” he says before launching into Spanish. “And you get extra credit if you translate the little rap about it into some other language.”

To find out more about Aaron Jafferis' work, visit his website