New take on Valentine's Day at Mt. Airy church dance


Tired of always having to go downtown whenever they want to go out dancing, a group of Mt. Airy women has come together to organize Northwest Philadelphia’s first “Valentines Dyke Dance.”

“Why here? Because for anyone in this community to celebrate and dance, and we do have a large queer community in Northwest Philly, we have to go downtown,” explained Linda Slodki, who is one of five organizers. “It can be far – and hard to park for many of us. So, we are celebrating right here as so many folks have been asking for this for a long time.”

Now, with what they hope will be the first of many future LGBTQ+ dances, the group is inviting anyone who qualifies to join them on Friday, Feb. 9, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Summit Presbyterian Church, located on the corner of Greene and Westview streets in Mt. Airy. 

“This is a dyke+ space, meaning all who identify as dykes and are over 18 years old are welcome,” said Slodki. “Any person who identifies as a dyke is welcome to attend, regardless of gender expression or identity, sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, race, age, political affiliation, religious identity, ability, class or immigration status. We celebrate dykes in all their manifestations and also welcome folks who align themselves with dykes and are supportive and invested in our liberation.”

They chose Summit Church, with its hall that holds up to 150 people, because it is local, affordable and community-minded, said Arleen Olshan, another organizer.

So far, they’ve put together a growing list of sponsors that includes Weavers Way, Night Kitchen, High Point Cafe, Malelani Cafe and South Street Art Mart. All funds raised will go to support GALAEI, a Queer and Trans, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (QTBIPOC) radical social justice organization that's been serving the community since 1989. 

Aside from their identity, another point of pride for this particular group is their intergenerational age range. Slodki is 72 and Olshan is 78. They’ve been joined by Melissa Hamilton, who is 37, Sarabella Rocha, who is 35, and Rabbi Lonnie Kleinman, who is 32. All are Mt. Airy residents except Rocha, who has an artist's studio at Summit Presbyterian Church.

“How often do you see an intersectional organizing committee of both young and old queers truly creating something this exciting in our own community?” said Slodki. “That kind of mutual support is even more important now, when our communities are under attack.”

Olshan, who spent most of her life in Mt. Airy, said that while life has improved a great deal for young people in her community, she sees that there are still challenges. 

“In many ways on the East Coast and West Coast, their lives are better in terms of laws, services and awareness of the issues,” Olshan said. “But there still are hate crimes, and violence. And in places like Florida, Arizona, Texas and the middle of the country there is book banning going on, and laws being passed against gender study, and racism and antisemitism is on the rise.”

“I see the younger generation far ahead with understanding their queer selves or fellow friends, and that is so positive,” said Rocha. “It is such an ancient situation that has been highly controlled for centuries globally. Now, it is critical to maintain protections, safe spaces, programs and so much more to survive the current wave of hostilities.”

It’s also important to remember – and appreciate – that the larger reality for the LGBTQ community is very different than it is here in Philadelphia, Olshan said. 

“Philadelphia continues to work as a safe haven for the diverse population of both young and older citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said. “However, trans youth are still in jeopardy. And when we were traveling last spring, our contacts told us to be cautious about being demonstrative in public.”

And it has another advantage. Rocha, who has also lived in both Los Angeles and Brooklyn, told us that while both those places were very inclusive to her community both socially and culturally, Philadelphia is actually much more “accessible” to a wider range of people because it is much more affordable. 

“Coming back to Philly, I am so excited for the current queer community working on inclusiveness here – Philly has such a strong background in organized protest, working-class protections and unique art spaces that expand minds and hearts,” she said. “Brooklyn, as in all of New York City, was harder for inclusiveness if you have no money. It was hard to go anywhere to enjoy when you were barely getting by financially. Los Angeles is now also in this situation as completely unaffordable. Philly does not close the door on you if you have no funds, and that is huge.”

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