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Incident Near 51st Street

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Suddenly there was a loud noise, the noise of high-pitched voices, perhaps young girls calling each other names, getting ready to fight--the sounds of show-offs.

I looked up from my chess board--I was playing a student at the after-school tutoring program where I work--and tried to distinguish one voice from the others. The children looked to the door with me.

"Oh," I said finally. "It's only Susie and her friends."

"No," answered one of the boys, "it sounds like a fight or something."

Tammy, who's one of the other tutors, walked to the door, saying she would check it out.

When she opened the door, it was already very dark outside, though it wasn't past 5:30, and the cold blew in. "Yeah," she repeated, so the few students left at that hour could hear, "it's a fight all right."

Everyone went to the door and crowded into the opening. A group of about 20 young men were in the middle of the street. One man pushed another. He in turn was shoved back. I did not see the glint of steel or any fist clenched as if over a gun. All I could see was a large group of men in the middle of the street getting ready to fight.

"Everyone back in," I said, and they all went back to their seats. I looked at the men again. Should I call the police? Perhaps they would go away.

Then it happened.

The men grouped themselves in rows of four. The garbled noises became a coherent chant. And then they began to dance--intricate steps, the dancers moving among each other as if they were really onstage instead of between an empty lot and a boarded-up building in the dark on Calumet off of 51st.

"They're dancing," I cried, and again everyone crowded around the door. They moved gracefully, keeping rhythm with a chant they all pronounced. It was performance art--poetry and dance fused together.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the dance ended--too abruptly, as if in the middle. Even the loud chant stopped. They jumped to the sidewalk on the other side of the street like silent ghosts aiming for nonchalance.

A police car pulled up. Immediately the men formed pairs and began to walk down the sidewalk as if they were a parade; but the police and all of us crowded around the door were the only spectators.

One of the policemen made a move to open his door, but a whistle of appreciation and then long and hard clapping from one of my students stopped him. The policemen looked confused, especially when the rest of us began to clap. The police looked from us to the men and back to us.

"Encore," the students began to call. "Encore."

The men stopped before they reached the corner. Turning to face both us and the police, they took a bow, kicked out their left feet in unison, and danced around the corner.

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