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Art studio gives patrons a brush with boogie nights

Paint Dancing brings out colorful smiles

By KRISTIN DIZON, P-I REPORTER   Wednesday, April 2, 2008

As Elaine Benes of "Seinfeld" might have said (ironically, of course), paint dancing is all about unbridled enthusiasm.

It's a butt-shaking, paint-splattering, sing-out-loud, irony-free experience that's exactly like it sounds: While you paint, you also dance.

Once a month, this hybrid activity happens in the Gasworks Gallery studio of artist Matt Jones, creator of organized paint dancing.

At last month's session, third-timer Rebecca Leamon shook her hips and tapped her toes. "I'm addicted. When else does your little kid get to come out?" asked Leamon, a nurse.

Though she hadn't painted since she was a child, she wasn't intimidated by the instant creativity. Using her fingertips, she made repeated ridges in deep orange and yellow on her paper.

"It's all about the self-expression," she said. "You never know what's going to come out."

Nearby, as Madonna's "Borderline" got the crowd revved up, another woman's painting started spare and calligraphic in thick red and black. Before long, the entire paper was covered in a mash of thick paint. Dark and primal, it represented the intense headache she had earlier that evening.

This mini-craze began when Jones, an abstract painter, online entrepreneur, and do-gooder, was painting in his studio with a friend, listening to music and dancing.

"It's something I do a lot," he said. "In fact, I think a lot of artists paint and dance at the same time."

He joked about a site called and, curious, later searched for it online. Sure enough, the URL was available.

Jones snapped it up, created a Web site and e-mailed his 3,000-plus-person mailing list about this new activity. New Year's Eve 2007 was the public debut -- and the house was packed.

It's not hard to pack this house, aka Jones' studio, which measures about 20 feet by 20 feet and has four tables for painting. He has squeezed as many as 50 into a session, which leaves little room for moving at all.

It seems that people like to paint and dance at the same time -- with complete strangers. On a recent night, standing on paint-splattered floors that would make Jackson Pollock proud, the paint dancers ranged from age 7 to the largely gray of hair.

Jones has tried all sorts of music, from Latin jazz to tribal, heavy rock, disco and '30s swing. But what fires up the crowd is fairly predictable: songs like "What I Like About You" by The Romantics and "Conga" by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

"I've tried everything and what people seem to like is '80s rock 'n' roll classics," Jones said. They also like some alt rock and disco.

"The grunge," he said, "doesn't seem to do it."

Paint dancing also benefits one of Jones' other endeavors, Jones supplies the paper, brushes and non-toxic tempera paints, and uses the $15 admission ($5 for kids) to donate potatoes to area food banks. has contributed 650,000 pounds of spuds to Northwest Harvest in the past 3 1/2 years.

Paint dancing also has spread virally -- mostly via the Web -- to groups in Miami, Palm Beach, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Naturally, extroverts are attracted, but the introverted come too.

"You'd be surprised at the number of people who show up and say, 'I don't know if I can do this. I feel shy about it,' " Jones said.

But a little encouragement (or maybe the bottles of wine he offers for $5) often helps overcome hesitation.

Nobody judges here, although people like to look at each other's creations. And, there's some really nice work in the room.

Many of the paintings are abstract, but they range from pink spring flowers to Rothko-esque bands of color to Bugs Bunny, Scottish terriers, fruit, an ancient sailing ship, and words like "dance" and "gasp." Squiggly lines and dots are popular.

"I draw inspiration from watching others work and love getting my hands in it," said Karen Fletcher, a dance teacher and friend of Jones who co-created paint dancing. "I'm always amazed at how much creativity is in here."

Although Mike McMahon hadn't painted since college, his paint-dancing creations, full of repeating patterns, strong structure and a deep intimacy with color, belie his profession as an architect.

Bumping hips with his friend Pat Doran, he sang along to "Holiday" with Madonna.

Plenty of folks are largely toe tappers or subtle hip shakers, but there are the full-body dancers like Patti Bezzo, one of the few pros in the room.

Bezzo, a painter of textured, layered acrylic landscapes, said she already danced while she worked. But she said paint dancing is far more spontaneous by its very nature.

She also likes the potato connection. "I think this is a fantastic idea to help fill up the food banks. It's very creative," she said.

The Andrich family of five came from Anacortes because daughter Jivon, 7, saw paint dancing on an "Evening Magazine" segment and was intrigued.

More impressive is that the family's two teenage sons, Cole, 13, and Zachery, 15, came without arm-twisting or bribery.

"I think it's pretty fun," said Zachery, painting fruit, while Jivon, all untamed exuberance, jumped up and down. As she danced, she let thick gobs of paint drip down her paper with each bounce.

Paint clung to her hands and sleeves, and she exclaimed to Jones, "This is the greatest night of my life!"

"You're a little shy, but once you start painting you're surprised by what comes out," said mom Shamay Andrich. "We're all discovering our hidden artist."

She called paint dancing "good, clean family fun."

Well, it was relatively clean until the entire dancing, jumping, high-fiving Andrich family smeared paint all over each other's faces, creating another art form: face paint dancing.

Link to article: Seattle PI


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