Monday, April 22, 2024
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Hanging in the balance

J Lester Feder

THE WASHINGTON POST – Charlotte Andrews has hazy memories from the three weeks she spent on a ventilator in the early part of the pandemic: struggling so hard to disconnect the machines keeping her alive that the hospital staff tied down her hands. A nurse trying and failing a dozen times to insert a needle into her beleaguered veins. Being surrounded by other patients fighting their own battles against covid-19 right beside her.

“They put me in this room, and people were dying all around me,” Andrews told me.

Her life wasn’t the only thing that hung in the balance.

Andrews, who is 72, was put on a ventilator on March 16, the same day that Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an emergency order closing bars and restaurants across Michigan.

That order shuttered Club Yesterday’s, a nightclub Andrews opened in 1996 to be a home to Detroit’s distinctive style of couples dancing, known as club ballroom, urban ballroom or Detroit-style ballroom. The dance community she had been building and celebrating for nearly a quarter-century was also fighting for its life.

Three weeks later, Andrews miraculously emerged from her coma, only to learn how much had been lost. “They gave me my Facebook page, and that’s when I found out a lot of the ballroom community had passed,” Andrews said.

ABOVE & BELOW: Nathaniel Vaughn, one of the oldest active dancers in Detroit’s ballroom scene, arrives at his 90th birthday celebration in Eastpointe in August; and a couple dances along the Riverwalk in Detroit. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST

Charlotte Andrews holds a book of photos from Club Yesterday’s, the ballroom dance club she opened in 1996
Kevin Collins, (C) teaches a ballroom dance class at the Diamond Shaft in Detroit

“You’re seeing a lot of people you’re glad to see,” said 51-year-old Velita Faulk, “but you can tell there’s a lot of people missing, people who didn’t make it”.

Her husband, Derrek Faulk, was particularly missing one of his mentors, who died during the pandemic near the age of 90.

“He really took me under his wing like a son,” he said. “It’s such a great community, because once they like you, they treat you just like family.”

With so many elders gone, it was now up to the younger generation to keep the dance alive. “It’s kind of the baton being passed to me,” he said.

The scene continued building steam as fall turned into winter – the class that Kevin Collins restarted in the summer with a handful of students had nearly 30 just before Christmas.

Some members of the scene talked about stepping back in January to avoid the Omicron variant surge; Nate Vaughn and his partner stopped going out altogether because they knew too many dancers who were still unvaccinated.

But if the clubs were open, plenty of dancers would be there to keep ballroom alive
in Detroit.