In Aberdeen, a safe option for the under-21s

20-year-old resident runs dances so teens can have fun without danger

November 08, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

Each week, they cram into a dark, hazy cinderblock gym in Aberdeen, bobbing their heads to hip-hop beats and exchanging high-fives.

Amid machine-made fog and the frenetic flickering of strobe lights, a blur of limbs and dreadlocks flies in all directions as dancers shake and shimmy the night away, climaxing in a midnight krump showdown.

Patrons pay $6 to enter through a garage door into the dingy building, which has no bathrooms, no bar and no drinks. Most of them aren't old enough to buy alcohol anyway.

It's a dance party for youths, put on by youths in an effort to provide an alternative to the streets.

"I don't worry about nothing when I come here," said Ashley Curtis, 16, of Aberdeen. "I have a good time. There's no violence or nothing."

Daniel "Slimer" White, a 20-year-old Aberdeen resident, has put on the weekly dances for the past two months. White said he wanted to organize a safe event where teenagers could go on weekends and have fun.

"If we give them something to do on Friday nights, they won't be out on the streets. ..." said White, whose Club Flying Time events have drawn up to 300 people.

In a bedroom community where attractions such as movie theaters and miniature golf courses are few and scattered, a familiar refrain among teens is that there are too few options for their spare time.

"People over 21 can go to a club," said White, a student at Harford Community College who also works part time at Starbucks. "For minors, there isn't much for people that age to do."

The Aberdeen Boys and Girls Club features occasional dances, mostly around holidays. But Ken Darden, the executive director, said, "It's kind of hard for staff who work full days with regular programming and do a party." "It's extended hours. It can be difficult that way, and that's part of the reason we don't do it too often."

Darden, who has not met White, said he supports teenagers taking part in positive activities.

"I commend him. It's not an easy thing to do," Darden said. "You have to have the right kind of security because you have to make sure teens are not getting in any fights. You want to make sure they're safe."

The night that White schedules dances can change from week to week, depending what else is going on. But through word of mouth and interaction on MySpace, teenagers know when a Club Flying Time party is happening.

At 10:30 p.m. on a recent Friday night, groups of teenagers ignored a torrent of rain and straggled into the blue-gray gym in an Aberdeen alley.

They lined up, deposited the cover charge in a plastic container and were patted down by security guards. White hires six of his friends and family members to search patrons and inspect bags and coats.

"No alcohol. No gangs. No horseplay," declares Derrick Howell, a friend who is head security guard. "We let them know. We never have any problems."

At 6-foot-9, Howell towers over the dance floor and keeps an eye on things.

"Parents drop off their kids and pick them up here so they're not on the streets after a [high school] football game," he said.

White started organizing dance parties nearly 10 years ago. He was nicknamed Slimer by his grandmother, Marcella Smith, because, "He used to dribble."

The nickname "stuck to him from a little boy on up," she said.

When he was in middle school, White would gather about 30 friends at a neighborhood recreation center and blast a stereo for an impromptu dance.

As he got older, the Slimer parties became more sophisticated. He started renting space, hiring a disc jockey and buying props to enhance the atmosphere. The one constant, White said, was the desire to provide a safe, enjoyable activity for young people.

"It was because people complain how boring Aberdeen is," he said. "Why so many people joining gangs, putting bandanas on? A lot of them smoke marijuana and drink because there's not much to do."

Each week since June, White has rented the gym of Boothe Brothers International, a real estate and community outreach service in Aberdeen. When the school year began, the dances became more popular, drawing about 200 teenagers, making the parties the place to be.

"This is the first place we go every weekend," said Robbie Armstrong, 20, pointing to his group of friends, who drove from Baltimore.

By 11:30 p.m., more teenagers are trickling through the door. They are arriving after the homecoming dance at Aberdeen High School. A group of girls in tight jeans and cropped hoodies, form a circle, giggling and gossiping on the dance floor.

Lone stragglers sit awkwardly on plastic chairs, some with bored gazes and others looking lonesome. Some teenagers chat loudly on cell phones despite blaring music. Others are letting loose, showing off their steps to the rhythms and rhymes of Crime Mob, Jay-Z and Soulja Boy.

At midnight, the intensity rises a notch. The DJ starts playing club music, and, right on cue, the teenagers cheer and form a large circle for krump battles.

The strobe lights flash as dancers jump into the center one at a time to show off their moves in a hyperactive flurry of motions and steps.

"I never thought it was gonna get this big," White said. "Now it's in the hundreds, 200 or 300. Most of the kids, I don't even know. There are like a hundred kids I've never seen before."

On some weeks, he makes a profit, which he carries over to the next week to pay for security, rent and the DJ.

madison.park@baltsun.com

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