Three years ago, before Jef and I knew we’d end up married (but were starting to think we might), we were driving west on Clifton Avenue in Cleveland when we suddenly had to stop. There was a barricade in the way. And music. And lights. And drag queens. One look and we knew we had to stop and find out what it was all about. So we parked and walked towards what was clearly a fantastic party.

We’d stumbled upon Dancing in the Streets, a fundraiser for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland. Now, a few pertinent facts about me:

  • I cannot resist an opportunity to dance. Any style, any time.
  • HIV/AIDS advocacy has always been a central issue for me, since high school.
  • “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas is my theme song.
  • I’m a really good dancer. So naturally I wanted to show off in front of this potential spouse.

So we donated, entered, and started to dance.

The sun went down. The DJ kept playing. We kept dancing.

There was lightning in the distance. But the DJ kept playing, so we kept dancing.

Rain poured. People were running for cover under awnings and in nearby bars. But the DJ kept playing, and dozens of us were still dancing, in the middle of a summer thunderstorm.

It was like that obligatory wet sari scene in every Bollywood movie ever, and it was absolutely magic.

To this day, both Jef and I consider it to be the best date either of us has ever been on.

That was 2009.

In 2012, I went back to Dancing in the Streets. Same corner of Clifton, just where Cleveland turns into Lakewood. But there were differences:

  • The stage was smaller.
  • Cleveland’s new food trucks were parked nearby.
  • The weather was perfectly clement.

And at a little after 7:00 in the evening, a drunk driver crashed into the barricade, hitting five people. Two would die.

Two days later, Jef and I attended a candlelight vigil for Mitch and the other victims. Not because we knew the victims (although Mitch was a friend of a friend), but because the event itself had connected us. Mitch chose to come down to an event in order to celebrate and support life in the face of difficulty. We made that same choice on that same day. It made us part of one community, one family. And while that might seem a flimsy connection to those who prefer to focus on more traditional bonds, there is nothing stronger in this world than the power of choice.

Yes, I cried at the vigil. Not so much for Mitch, but for the pain of those who knew and loved him. I recognized a lot of faces from Dancing in the Streets that night. Some had come with him to the event, as his friends. But many others were like me, people united only by a choice to come, to support, to celebrate, and to dance.

Dancing is the epitome of vitality. Every part of you moving, breathing, beating, full of life. I’ll be back next year, to support the living and to honor the dead. For the HIV+ clients I treat weekly as a massage therapist. For Mitch, killed at 27 by a drunk in an SUV. For community and family and survivors and friends.

I promise I’ll be back.

And that I’ll be dancing for you.