As part of our series Bay Curious, we are answering questions from KQED listeners and readers. This one comes from San Francisco resident Amy Kistler.
Amy Kistler has seen a man dancing on the 18th Street pedestrian overpass above Highway 101 in San Francisco for years. Her evening commutes from Emeryville back to the city are speckled with sightings of the dancing man, who always holds a large red heart in his hand.
“Is he going to be there, is he not going to be there?” Kistler regularly wonders as she crawls toward the overpass in rush-hour traffic.
It became a kind of game in her office, Kistler said. Her co-workers would share when they saw the dancing man, and try to guess what brought him up to the bridge.
Finally stumped, Kistler asked Bay Curious, “What’s the story with the dancer on the 18th Street overpass?”
The Man Behind The Dance Moves
San Francisco native Javonne Hatfield, 23, started dancing at his family’s church when he was 8 years old.
“I was always dancing around and everyone was like, ‘Why can’t you stay still?’ ” he says.
From that early age, his mother encouraged him to practice in the arts, and had him take part in musicals and plays at the Cosmopolitan Baptist Church in Ingleside. One day, he tried praise dance, a spiritual performance art done as a form of worship.
“You paint your face white and you mime to inspirational music or gospel music,” he explains.
It was an instant connection for Hatfield.
“I always felt that there was this was unspoken power that comes over me when I participate in any kind of dance,” he says. “I would always get this very special feeling and think ‘This is for me.'”
Dancing For Drivers
Three years ago, Hatfield was at a difficult point in life. His mother had died four years earlier and he was going through some big life changes.
“I was trying to figure out, ‘What’s my purpose? Why am I here? What can I do at this point in time to get the negative energy out?'” he says.
One evening, he walked out to a bridge over Highway 101 near his Portola district home and stared down at the cars crawling in traffic below him. He says he noticed how unhappy everybody looked — how they were all focused on getting to their destination and not happy to be there.
On a whim, he threw up a peace sign at the drivers.
And it felt good.
Quickly, an idea formed and before long Hatfield had returned to the bridge with a piece of cork board he’d cut into the shape of a heart and spray painted red.
Looking down at the cars, “I got chills throughout my body, and I started shaking a little bit. I told myself don’t think about it,” he says. “Once I started dancing I could hear the car honks over the music and see people waving at me. That’s when it stuck — this is what I need to do.”
After a few location changes, and an upgrade on his heart-shaped prop, Hatfield settled into his regular spot on the pedestrian bridge near the Vermont Street exit. In a way, the bridge — floating in front of an expansive view of San Francisco — has been his unofficial stage for the last two and a half years.
“This particular location is like a gateway in and out of San Francisco,” Hatfield explains. Drivers going nearly anywhere in the city will pass under him on their way in or out of town.
“I believe what you put out is what you get back. So, I try to just give out good, give out good,” he says. “It’s all about the love, and that’s what my message is.”
Hatfield says the dancing also makes him feel connected to his mother and God. He says a prayer every time before he dances.
“My mom would give people chances if they messed up in life. She was always there for people and had a big heart to share with the community,” he says. “With me dancing, that’s my way to keep the love inside of me and share it with the world.”
You can spot Hatfield on the 18th Street overpass during evening commute hours several days a week. If you do see him and wave, it’s sure to bring a smile to his face.
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