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A curious sight greeted passersby on the evening of May 24th, 2011: Lounging on the sidewalk outside the Maritime Hotel’s Hiro Ballroom, on 9th Avenue, were a group of conspicuously costumed older women, outfitted in graying wigs, heavy makeup, cotton muumuus, and orthopedic shoes. “COME INSIDE!” screamed Sarah Van Buren, flanked by Stina Puotinen. Both are members of CHERYL, the Brooklyn-based dance and performance collective best known for antics-filled monthly dance parties that take place mostly throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and more recently, Europe. The last in an all-day series of Museum-sponsored events known as Community Day, CHERYL: THE FUTURE was a dance party devoted to celebrating the Museum’s new building project at Washington and Gansevoort Streets, in the Meatpacking District.
CHERYL was founded in 2008 by Puotinen, Nick Schiarizzi, Van Buren, and Destiny Pierce in response to what the group of friends saw as a dearth of nightlife in Park Slope and Gowanus, the Brooklyn neighborhoods where they lived at the time. Puotinen, Van Buren, and Pierce first met in the education department at the Brooklyn Museum in 2004-5, a fact that informs the participatory nature of their parties. “Our initial goal was to teach people a ‘CHERYL’ dance that we invented, and to have them do it with us,” says Puotinen of the inaugural party, where the group screened the first of their now-signature videos, produced and released online prior to every event as a way of articulating its theme. “Basically, we toss around ideas until we start to laugh,” she said of the group’s collaborative process. “If we keep laughing, it makes the cut."
While conjuring up their performance for the Whitney’s future-themed party, the CHERYLs (as they’re collectively known) riffed on the inevitability of old age, choreographing an evening-long program that started out in grand geriatric style—the CHERYLs hobbled onto the dance floor early in the evening with the aid of walkers and canes—and ended up on another planet, as waves of revelers poured in over the course of the night, decked out in all manner of futurist garb. Costumes are always encouraged at CHERYL events; every party features a “craft table” where those who arrive unadorned can whip up a costume on the spot. Glow sticks, battery-powered mini lasers, and a whole lot of silver tape lent a rave-like feel to a dance floor packed with Whitney staff and CHERYL devotees. Hours into sets by DJ Nick and DJ Colby B, the CHERYLs took to the floor for one final number, decked out in shiny bodysuits reminiscent of Bladerunner and surrounded by a frenzied crowd. The CHERYL ethos, it turns out, is as infectious at a museum-sponsored event—the group’s installations, videos, performances, and events have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS 1, the Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Rubin Museum and Eyebeam Art and Technology Center—as it is in a Brooklyn nightclub.
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