Mr. P and I have been coming to South Beach for a couple of years now, and there is one person we always know we’ll see on the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall– a middle-aged man with crazy hair, a large fanny pack, a short-sleeved button down men’s shirt, and flowered skirt, wearing psychadelic platform shoes and dancing his heart out to various tunes of the ’60s and ’70s blaring out of a little boom box. He twirls, steps, flutters his hands, and poses. He engages passersby in friendly conversation and collects money on a little foil square from his amused audience. I always enjoy watching this man– more for his sass and enthusiasm than his technical ability, per se, but he does have a couple moves I’d like to borrow if a time machine were to whisk me away to a ’70s disco.
Here is a video of Lincoln Road’s dancing man in action:
Like most street performers, he’s always just been part of the scenery and local flavor. Although I may pause to watch him longer than your average passerby, since I get such a kick out of his dancing, I’ve never really given much thought to who he might be or what made him tick.
Last night, as we sat at a table enjoying our ice cream from Gelateria Parmalat (best gelato outside of Italy if you’re ever in the area), the dancing man set up shop in the plaza right in front of us. He meticulously cleaned the entire area around him, throwing away bits of trash, speaking with various individuals who were crowding his “stage”, and laying out his foil square, on which he arranged a few quarters in a geometric pattern. The aforementioned foil square doesn’t look like much, perhaps just a loose piece of trash, and several pedestrians and bikers who went right over it were treated to diva-like dismissive hand gestures and a few sharp words.
Finally, the tape went into the tape deck, and through the static, the ’70s came alive again. His hips started to sway, the skirt swishing around him. The sway turned into a couple twirls, then some dainty-fingered hand gestures, and a sassy prancing step around the foil square.
Easily distractible, the dancing man will interrupt himself mid-dance to engage passing tourists and locals in conversation. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him dancing for more than 10-15 seconds without stopping. Later, when we went to give him our donation, we found out that the banter consists of an endless stream of retro music and movie trivia. He seemed very friendly and into himself and his persona, but I still have no sense about what makes him tick.
A google search for “lincoln rd dancing man” soon pulled up this interview from Miami Beach 411, Meet Mitchell Chonin: Lincoln Road Dancer, Performance Artist. I learned that Mr. Chonin, as we now know him, has been dancing on South Beach since the ’80s. A Miami native, he claims to have been elected both valedictorian and prom queen of his high school class in the mid-’70s. By day, he works as a registered dietitian. He believes in his talent and aspires to be on American Idol. I pray that he never makes it onto any of those reality shows because I know they would love to have someone like him for the “ripping people to shreds” portion, and anyway, I’d love for him to keep on dancing in South Beach, where he brings a huge smile to my face every time I see him dance.