Marcus Young's Don't You Feel It Too?

The world is a stage, and this former St. Paul City Artist wants you to dance like no one is watching—while passersby try not to stare

Marcus Young of Don't You Feel It Too? dancing in public.
Marcus Young

photos by ackerman + Gruber

Former St. Paul City Artist Marcus Young is the founder of Don’t You Feel It Too?, an experimental public dance practice he launched during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Every week from April through October, participants don headphones, listen to their favorite music, and, as he puts it, “dance their inner lives in public” at sites including Nicollet Mall, the University of Minnesota, and the Stone Arch Bridge.

“As a kid, I was so shy. I hated performing. Even in my choir in high school, I was so nervous I could see my knees fluttering under my robe. You would not have said, ‘He will grow up to dance in public.’”

“I got my undergrad at Carleton in music, where I conducted as well as performed. I got my MFA in theater at the U of M, where I was the director. In both, I was shaping, giving form to,

“The first thing that got me into public performance was something I saw on Pacific Avenue, the main street of Santa Cruz. There was this man who would walk it every day, very slowly, always smiling. He would walk for three hours in the morning, with an umbrella to protect himself from the sun. He’d go to lunch and then walk another three hours. I started a conversation and slow-walked with him. I asked if I could do his behavior as an artwork. He looked really happy and invited this calm attention. Some people were making fun of him—‘Can’t you walk any faster?’ But the fact that he knew he was being made fun of and yet he persisted—I thought that was just marvelous and brave and inexplicable.”

“I did it first in Beijing, at a behavioral art festival. I picked the most iconic pedestrian street—Wangfujing, like our Nicollet Mall. The day before, I walked the distance in 7 minutes, and then
I slow-walked that in 3 to 4 hours.”

“I was so shy you would not have said, ‘He will grow up to dance in public.’”

“It was absolutely a precursor to DYFIT—realizing that the public is this rich place of personal discovery. So much of my work is about that crossover, the public and the personal.”

“When the Republican National Convention was going to happen in September 2008, I remember the reporting about anarchists and police coming from all around the country. There were times I couldn’t get home because downtown St. Paul was on lockdown; I never saw chain link fences that high. The legitimate protesters were pushed to a place away from the action, but we wanted to be as close as we could to the heart of it, to create a bit of mystery, to practice joy and exuberance, to work out the anxiety we felt in our bodies.”

“From the beginning, we knew we had hit on something true, something deep and profound. It is bigger than shaking your booty on Nicollet Mall and saying, ‘I feel happy.’ When we really dig deep in this practice, we can get to this place that I don’t talk about very much. It’s so far away from words.” 

 “I’ve probably been to more local Buddhist and meditation centers than anyone, just shopping around trying to find a place to feel comfortable. I’m a terrible meditator. I like the idea of meditating. I’m a much better dancer than I am a meditator.”

“Once there was a guy who said, ‘You’re the worst dancer in the world!’ so loud that I heard it through my headphones. I was in my joy: Think what you want! But I also thought, Oh, someone took time to notice and to voice their opinion—thank you for noticing.

Digital Extra

More of Marcus Young dancing:

Marcus Young of Don't You Feel It Too?

Marcus Young of Don't You Feel It Too?

Marcus Young of Don't You Feel It Too?