Steve Ralls

DJ Alyson Calagna's Doctrine of the Dance Floor

Filed By Steve Ralls | November 15, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Entertainment, Media
Tags: Alyson Calagna, Ambiente Magazine, Florida, gay clubs, music, White Party

Calagna.jpgThe author Virginia Woolf once posited that literature must surely be the most challenging of all the arts. The writer, she observed, is tasked with painting the landscape of a life - with a beginning, a middle and some form of conclusion - using a paintbrush with no colors. The landscape of experience, Woolf said, was far more easily constructed with the palette of the painter.

Imagine if, instead of mere words, Woolf had been limited to just drums and a sex-coated groove.

It's a quandary DJ Alyson Calagna knows well, and has mastered as perfectly as Woolf's command of the word. And just like her literary counterpart, the South Florida spin-mistress also finds herself a successful female artist amidst a field of colleagues who are almost exclusively men.

Woolf may have found comfort in a "room of one's own," but Calagna has found her own sound in the DJ booth, and later this month, she'll be one of the headliner artists commanding the dance at The White Party, a benefit for Care Resource.

For Calagna, the doctrine of the dance floor comes down to two things: Truth and Self.

"My philosophy is pretty basic," she told Ambiente Magazine. "Be true to yourself and your sound. That has worked for me all these years . . . it's about [the] music."

That mindset has guided the South Florida DJ for 15 years. It's a mantra that has formed over her years on several continents and two of the most musically influential cities in the United States .

"I grew up overseas for most of my childhood," she said. "I lived in Dubai , and there I was influenced by the ethnic drums, chants and rhythms. Then I lived in Aberdeen , Scotland for a bit, where I first discovered House Music. That piqued my interest at a young age, and I became infatuated by that European house sound; I still am today."

Later, Calagna's family moved to Louisiana , where she has played extensively, including at the city's Southern Decadence weekend, where she was scheduled to appear this past September until Hurricane Gustav shelved those plans.

"When my family and I moved back to Louisiana , the music was totally different," she recalls. "[There was] lots of jazz, which is why I love the sound of brass so much. Soul, Zydeco and country were always being played, too."

The landscape of sound continues to develop, and followed her to the Fort Lauderdale area, which she now calls home. But the music scene in other countries where she has played also serves as a compass whenever she plays.

"There is always a different sound when you go from country to country," she told me. "For instance, Brazil is very fast-paced tribal, and in Toronto , I can play a bit for funky and electro fans. The great thing about playing in different counties is [that] you can adapt to what they like, all while staying true to yourself as well."

As for Miami , a city nearby her current home, she says it "is a huge part of the dance music scene. There is a vibe here that is like no other. It's the Latin influence; it's sexy and has an energy that is indescribable."

As Calagna's profile has grown exponentially in the last few years, her resume has expanded to include a broad array of events, including, just this year, stops in Vancouver , Chicago , Detroit , San Antonio, Dallas and Washington , D.C. On Labor Day Saturday - typically the slowest weekend of the year in the nation's capital - she packed in a full house at Town, a local dance club know for hosting some of the country's top DJ talent.

Continue reading this article at Ambiente Magazine online.

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It's funny, Steve. I almost didn't comment on this one. Dance parties like this are so far removed from my life, that I don't feel the connection.

I've never been to any of the big gay circuit parties and I've never understood why they exist. I've never understood the fascination some folks have with following DJs who simply remix music other people wrote, performed and sold.

Or at least that's my assumptions. As I said, I've never gone to one - or even met someone who has. Indiana, of course, doesn't have huge circuit parties - that's a "luxury" reserved for the East and West Coast queers and not the rest of us.

To me they're simply a way for coastal queers to continue to show that marriage, martinis and Madonna are much more important than their brethren in "flyover states" who are still trying to get our rights to keep a job while they snort blow and take X and dance their silly little heads off.

Hey, Bil.

I'd disagree a little bit with what you said.

I do think there was a time when these events were purely party, but that is not the history of how they began, or necessarily how they've ended up.

The widely-regarded "first" circuit party was held on Fire Island, when a group of gay men, watching the local population deal with the AIDS epidemic, got together and organized a charity response to help raise money and awareness. Because Fire Island was, even then, seen as a retreat and vacation spot for the LGBT community - as Miami is, also, today - the response came in the form of a venue and event that would attract the maximum number of people to come out and spend money that, in turn, would go to help in the crisis.

That largely changed in the early 90s, I think, but today other LGBT groups - including The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - have returned to having events that have a 3 fold purpose: raise money, raise visibility and bring together a lot of people.

Education and activism come in many forms, and all have a place in the community . . . and attract different groups of people. There was an event on a retired aircraft carrier in San Diego several years ago, for example, that provided a 'safe space' for some military members to contribute to the effort to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. For many of those people, marching in a pride parade or attending a black-tie dinner with press cameras everywhere would have been a far riskier venture.

Now . . . as for DJs remixing things. Alyson is a friend, and I've come to recognize that it takes more talent and hard work than most people know. It's sort of like adapting a novel for the movie screen. Yes, it's a pre-existing work, but getting it ready for a different format and different audience isn't always an easy task.

Just as Demi Moore about her experience bringing 'The Scarlet Letter' to movie theatres! LOL . . .