. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sweating, Writhing End to Summer

The ground shook and the air billowed in Gorky Park last weekend as tens of thousands of Moscow dance fiends erupted in one last frenzied burst of energy as summer ended and school approached.

Billed as the first such open-air dance extravaganza to be held in Moscow, Saturday's "Dancing City" music festival became just that as an area measuring perhaps 100 meters square heaved, swayed and sweated to a lineup of over 20 Russian and foreign acts included Whigfield, Snap, Masterboy and headliners Boney M.

"We've not come for any particular band, just come to dance," said Andrei Zakharov, 21, as he danced wildly with two girlfriends. Passersby stared and smiled as the trio hopped about right before the entrance of the Chudo-Grad funfair entrance early in the day. "And we're not embarrassed because everyone likes what we're doing. They watch and enjoy it because we're enjoying ourselves."

At 45,000 rubles ($8.40) a ticket, the nine-hour festival was designed by organizers to open up some of the world's leading dance bands to the masses who can't afford to see them when they appear in Moscow's pricey nightclubs.

Despite one or two weak performances, sheer momentum carried the audience through the day, and even the overdone sex god "Dictator of Love" was honored with a few cries of "Davai, Davai!" ("Come on, Come on!"). But by the time Boney M came on stage at 10:40 p.m., the crowd was looking decidedly less energetic.

"I had to do some work to get them going," said the band's dancer, "Tiny" Tony Ashcroft, the next day. "They were a bit quiet -- I suppose they had been there all day. Normally when I take my shirt off, all hell is supposed to break loose."

However, a string of old favorites such as "Daddy Cool," "Sunny," and, of course, "Rasputin," was enough to boost the crowd through to the festival's close at midnight.

For those who didn't bring supplies with them, it was also a day of long waits for drinks and food. Long queues from the refreshment kiosks snaked their way past hundreds of people settled under trees throughout the park with their hard-won beers and shashlik. Altogether, it was a scene that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

"In my time it was hippies who got together like this. It was forbidden then, and I myself used to look at them like they were from another planet," recalled Natasha Krasilnikova, "under 50," who had come to the festival with her son and daughter, both students. "They used to gather in this park, not in such numbers of course, and they [the authorities] would constantly be driving them out."

With only 73 arrests, mainly for drunkenness, policing at Saturday's tusovka, or gathering, was on the whole surprisingly restrained. That is, unless fans attempted to climb up onto the main stage or either of the two large scaffold stages located right in the thick of the crowd, whereupon they invited a firm push back down or even a hail of truncheon blows for persistent offenders.

Designed for professional dance demonstrations that never took place, the side stages remained empty all day after having been initially stormed by the crowd during Whigfield's opening set. Despite the frantic arm-waving of the handful of militiamen guarding them, both structures were on the brink of collapse as more and more people swarmed up to get a better view. Only after a threat to halt the music and a good deal of shoving and slapping by excited officers were the stages eventually cleared and a potential disaster averted.

During the daytime at least, the worst the attendant ambulance crew had to deal with was a few cases of sunstroke and one broken leg after a roller-blader apparently danced himself into the wrong shape.

Viewed from above, "Dancing City" was a sea of waving arms dotted with balloons, a Russian flag and a small, hastily scrawled sign asking "Vanya, where's our vodka?" At ground level, it was a seething mass of mostly smiling faces, among which appeared that of 77-year-old veteran Nikolai Petrov, slowly making his way around the park.

"I'm almost blind and I don't hear so well, but it would be worse if I just lay around at home," he shouted over the boom of Snap. "I like walking around where there are young folk, because where there's youth you yourself grow younger again."