The 2600 block of North Fratney Street in Riverwest initially looks the same as most of the rest of Milwaukee – lonely. In the surrounding blocks, lights from TVs flicker out of living room windows, most businesses are dark, and the streets are quiet. But then, at 8 o’clock sharp, there’s a blast of dance music and Wendy Mesich appears on her porch. A couple houses down, a door opens and Matthew Filipowicz and Kate Ward walk out and start dancing, Filipowicz waving a flashlight above his head. They’re joined by an unknown number of porch dancers around the neighborhood.
This social distancing dance party happens every night at 8, and was dreamed up by Mesich, a community organizer who thought it would be fun for “everyone to turn it up and dance on our porches to acknowledge we’re all in this together” as well as taking a moment to give a shout out to “all the doctors, nurses, grocery clerks, mail people, sanitation workers, and other essential workers,” in a similar way that New Yorkers have gotten in the habit of filling the streets with a round of applause at 7.
“I thought the neighborhood would love to live a little more as they say thanks. It feels great to move and be outside,” Mesich says.
Helping keep the neighborhood on the same beat is low-power community radio station Riverwest Radio (WXRW 104.1 FM), which broadcasts half hour playlists created and sent in by people from the neighborhood.
“It’s a little bit out of the way we do things, but because things are so different right now, we’re more willing to try new things,” notes station manager Xav Leplae. “The situation opens up possibilities that didn’t exist before.” After shutting the station down a few days to rework their technology, the station is now running and Leplae says they’ve seen “an uptick in interest in what we’re doing within the community.”
“Because we’re extremely local we’re different from other radio stations because we’re just a stone throw away from most of our listening audience,” Leplae explains. “It’s easy for people to connect with us.” Local musicians have been sending in audio files and a regular show at a nearby venue, the Jazz Gallery for the Arts, has transformed into a Riverwest Radio program.
“You can do it on Zoom or Facebook, but the nice thing is we already have an infrastructure, we’re sort of a clearinghouse for these local programs,” Leplae says, adding that the station allows for talent without the learning curve of technical production.
That community reach is what has Debbie Powers dancing across the neighborhood on Humboldt Avenue. Powers, who works at the Riverwest Co-op and Riverworks, joins in by “bumping it” on her car stereo and dancing along.
“I think it’s a really cool idea of how the community can come together, even where we’re not sharing the same space. I’m not a great dancer, but I enjoy flailing my arms around and spinning in circles,” Powers laughs. She says the good vibes are spreading – when her and a friend departed on a bike ride, she overhead the dancing being talked about.
“We overheard an older couple explaining to a neighbor from across the alley why she was hearing loud music every night at 8. They were all really excited about it and the neighbor said she would be joining in from now on,” Powers says.
Want to join in? Tune in to 104.1FM or listen via riverwestradio.com at 8 p.m. daily and start dancing. For more information, check the It’s Time to Dance Facebook page.