Wednesday 7 December 2016

Dancing in the street... on a disco walking tour

Fancy doing the conga down Grafton Street or the carwash at the Molly Malone? Eoin Butler joins Dublin's first disco walking tour

Published 11/07/2015 | 02:30

Disco divas: Guru Dudu leads his followers around Dublin city centre. Photo: Arthur Carron
Disco divas: Guru Dudu leads his followers around Dublin city centre. Photo: Arthur Carron

At 7pm on a sunny evening, Dublin's first-ever Silent Disco Walking Tour is about to embark from outside the tourist office on Suffolk Street.

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High priest for this evening's festivities, Guru Dudu, addresses the small flock gathered around the Molly Malone statue, via a headset microphone.

Dressed in a flared orange jumpsuit, yellow utility belt and white fez, the Australian street artist looks more like an intergalactic fast-food clerk than a conventional tour guide.

"Happy Yoga combines the best of East and West," he announces. "From the East comes ancient wisdom. And from the West comes… DISCO."

At that moment, the opening chords of Chic's disco classic Le Freak blast out on the complimentary headphones we've been issued with. Guru Dudu thrusts one finger in the sky and strikes a John Travolta pose. His new disciples follow suit.

At the back of the crowd, three teenage passers-by mull over an invitation to join in. "I'm afraid we'll look stupid," one admits. His friends murmur in agreement.

For the Psychedelic Pied Piper and his Band of (mostly) Merry Women, however, that possibility just isn't a consideration tonight.

A dozen or so pranksters bop and jive down Suffolk Street, dancing to infectious sounds that are inaudible to everyone else. An African taxi driver throws his head back in delighted laughter at the passing spectacle, while tourists snap photos and office drones roll their eyes.

Guru Dudu (aka Melbourne-native David Naylor) is in town for the Laya Healthcare Summer Spectacular, Ireland's biggest free summer festival, which comes to Dublin this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Cork the following weekend.

Formerly known as the Street Performance World Championship, the event is in its 10th year now and is expected to draw over 250,000 spectators in total.

"What differentiates us from every other festival," event producer Shell Holden explains, "is that we bring international street performers to Ireland. Stuff you haven't seen before."

She rattles through a list of the bizarre attractions this year's festival promises. There's The Space Cowboy, holder of 34 separate world records, but probably best known for swallowing swords, underwater, in a tank full of sharks.

The sharks, alas, will not be joining him in Ireland this year. Instead, the Australian promises to cycle a nine-foot unicycle, blindfolded, while juggling chainsaws.

"So that should be worth a look," ventures Holden, with no little understatement.

American strongwoman Mama Lou, apparently, can crush apples with her biceps, lift a sack of potatoes with her tongue and bend frying pans with her bare hands.

"She'll be giving us cooking lessons, strongwoman-style," Holden promises.

There's also British contortionist Bendy Em, who can fit her whole body into a 16-inch see-through box, Argentinean football freestyler Victor Rubilar and Belgian trampoline artists Trampoline Mission 3.

Of course, not every performer is here to risk life and limb. Guru Dudu's interactive, improvised city tours are about nothing more than putting a smile on people's faces.

"It's a chance for people to break out of their normal comfort zone," he explains. "To see the city in a new light. It's about getting to your body more so than to your head. It's about getting back to being a kid and remembering how to play again."

After a detour into Brown Thomas, he leads his demented conga line down Grafton Street. Guru Dudu improvises a list of increasingly silly dance moves which the group have to replicate.

"Here comes the airplane," he yells. And everyone thrusts their arms out. "Do the carwash," he instructs, a moment later, and more chaos ensues.

"Let the pram turn," he offers next. (That last one, it turns out, isn't a dance routine at all. A young mother and child are genuinely at risk of being swept up in the madness.)

Outside Dunnes Stores, participants form a catwalk and take turns strutting up and down to Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy. By this stage a bunch of Spanish students have joined our ranks.

A drunk slumped in a nearby doorway stares at this silent pantomime unfold in open-mouthed disbelief.

In Stephen's Green one sunbather is so enthused, she abandons her shoes and her book to run away with the circus. Looping back up by Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, a traffic island of stranded pedestrians swoon in appreciation as we pass.

For the grand finale, the group dances around Phil Lynott's statue on Harry Street to the somewhat incongruous strains of Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk.

("Who is that guy anyway?" Guru Dudu asks, squinting at the inscription to one of Dublin's most beloved rockers when the tour is over.)

"The vibe was really cool," says Naylor later, when he is out of character. "There's a beautiful look on people's faces as they see you approach. Shock, at first. But once they perceive that you're not a threat, they relax. They can't not melt. They can't say no. They loosen up and they want to join in.

"This is Ireland, for God's sake," he laughs. "People always want to have fun."

For more information on the weekend's events see cityspectacular.com

Irish Independent

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