Grateful Dead Dance

The Music Never Stopped for the Grateful Dead Dance

By Trina Calderón

Our collective need to let loose was never more immanent on the dancefloor of a Grateful Dead show. With Bobby screaming, “Good Lovin,” or Jerry playing his heart out on a sick “Samson,” or perhaps the ecstatic feeling of “Weather Report Suite” unfurling, the boys knew how to get us on our feet. 

In the aftermath of August 1995, a group of Deadheads who liked to dance out in hallways and corridors at shows wanted that to never end so they started the Grateful Dead dance. Just because the Grateful Dead didn’t exist anymore, it didn’t mean the dancing had to stop. Grassroots, donation only, no security, and no alcohol, the dance consists of an entire show playing loud for people to come get their groove on–and discover that the Grateful Dead comes back alive when you play it. Set break included.

The importance of the dance in creating community can’t be stressed enough. It’s been about 27 years without Jerry and the Grateful Dead dance allows people to continue listening to all the magical musical shows. For some that means shows they never had the opportunity to experience live. At the turn of the century, the Chancellor of the dance revived the vibe, adding decorative tapestries, groovy lighting, and an altar to celebrate and honor the band. His meticulous process choosing shows is complex, but mostly bound to the month, and usually a day close to the day they’re dancing. Selecting from every era, he soundboards the show for the right version, and sets it all up on a loudspeaker system. Just about every weekend, people come together to dance, and new people show up all the time.

“We’re trying to keep the old GD dancehall vibe alive and it’s really working. I would say it carries on from the dance back into the big show now rather than the other way around. Now you can practice in a free space and bring the vibe from the Dead dance out to the real shows whereas before the dance was a recreation of that,” a Deadhead shared about the evolution. 


Word spread and other places picked up the baton. Dead dances have been held in Vermont, Oregon, Colorado, San Diego, Topanga Canyon, and Arcata. After Dead & Co tour ended last October, 8 vans of Deadheads from all over caravanned north after the Hollywood Bowl shows to check it out and have been dancing ever since. That’s a dozen kids who joined the fray in one instance. No bar, no alcohol, the dance is a place where you can let go and nobody is going to yell at you or think anything about it. There is plenty of space to really move and feel free.

A Deadhead explained the dance, “I feel like I’m in a place of ecstatic balance to where everything feels completely aligned in my body and soul and that I and we are being given a certain peace through the music that helps to calm strengthen and justify our existence. It’s so very meditative, prayerful, and abounding in joy that I (on a really good night) feel like I’m levitating. And I walk away from it speechless and in awe of the Grateful Dead’s mystical rhythmic spell that has been put on me.”

For many years, the dance used to be indoors. “If you take all the times we danced at 418 Project, we danced more times than the GD played in the bay area all together,” recalled the Chancellor. Since the turn of the century, there’s been over 500 dances. Currently, the GD dance is somewhere between San Francisco and Santa Cruz on a coastal cliff high above the mighty Pacific Ocean. It’s never been anybody’s money-making gig and welcomes anyone who rolls in.

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