In April, as cheers for essential workers were becoming a 7 p.m. staple, St. James Place in Clinton Hill turned into a dance floor. The party originated with one family: president of the block association Gail Bryan-Vill, 63, whose husband, Jo Vill, 63, and son, Chad Vill, 31, started playing music from their brownstone to accompany the nightly clap. The celebration grew from there, and now, Friday through Sunday nights, crowds of up to 100 people come on bike and on foot from Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan to dance, Rollerblade, Hula-Hoop, and blow bubbles.
“We’ve come closer as a community because of it,” Chad says. “The opera singers Paul Grosvenor and Imani Mchunu Grosvenor across the street, who have performed at the events, have lived there for two years. We didn’t even know they sang.”
“We had a woman on stilts, a carnival dancer,” adds Jo, a retired bus dispatcher. “We had another guy doing flag tossing. It’s like a little village here.”
The Vills have hosted 95 parties so far. “It started off with a five-to-ten-minute gig,” says Jo. “Then it went to 15 minutes, then it went to half an hour, and now we’re playing for an hour on the weekends.”
Luckily, not much is needed to throw a good block party: six speakers, four parking cones to block traffic, two laptops for DJ-ing, and one bubble machine. “We spend no more than $30 a week for masks, water, and hand sanitizer,” says Chad. Clinton Hill T-shirts sell for $20 with proceeds benefiting a neighborhood scholarship fund.
When a remix of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” comes on, the dozens of partygoers start to disperse. “This is the last song,” says Jo. “When we play this, people know we’re wrapping up.”
“It feels like a group-therapy session,” one regular says. “Don’t wear tight jeans, and be ready to throw it back. This is no place for the timid.”
*This article appears in the July 20, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!