Why is that man dancing on that overpass above Highway 101?
The overpass dance floor fan club
For JaVonne Hatfield, overpasses are the only dance floor necessary.
Every Thursday and Friday afternoon, he shimmies, shakes, and smiles from the 101 overpass that crosses the freeway at 18th Street, all while holding up a giant cardboard heart to the commuters below.
For nearly two years, Patricia Douglas watched JaVonne Hatfield dance.
“I drive this commute, I’ve been driving this commute for close to 15 plus years,” Douglas said. “For the past couple of years, I’ve seen JaVonne on the freeway, just dancing with his heart, having a good old time.”
She didn’t know his name was JaVonne Hatfield, and he didn’t know she was watching. But Thursdays and Fridays, when driving home from work on Highway 101, she’d look up at the 18th Street overpass and there he’d be.
“Earlier in the years I had a little heart of my own that I’d wave, trying to get his attention, but he’d never see me,” Douglas said.
Then, one day, she finally got up the courage to thank him in person. Instead of driving home on the freeway, she went up to the overpass itself, holding her heart.
“I always put this out, but I don’t think you ever see me. I have this little heart that I have just get your attention,” Douglas told Hatfield. “I want to know why you do it.”
She gave him her own paper heart with the words, “You are great” written on it.
“He says he just loves to give back, and that's why he does it,” Douglas explained.
Hatfield had a longer explanation.
Inside the ear buds of the 101 Heartman
“The way that I'd describe it is like, I'm here but I'm not,” says Hatfield. “Like, I know physically I'm here dancing in the moment, but when I'm doing it it's like I'm almost in a nirvana of it's own. The energy I feel from other people is what I go off of, and the more I dance the more energy there is.”
The music is all in his headphones, so commuters are left to guess what he listens to. But here’s what we know: he’s a huge Drake fan. He’s also into Rudimental, Erykah Badu, and Sam Smith.
His dance moves are freestyle, and hard to describe. He does a lot of twirling. He waves his cardboard heart. The rest of his body seems almost elastic. He’s kind of like a dancing mime -- maybe because his passion for dance began with inspirational mime dancing at Cosmopolitan Baptist Church in Oceanview when he was a kid. No kidding. He takes his dancing seriously, in part to dance his way out of pain.
“There's a lot of kids I knew that had died, like, drug violence on the streets, or they end up on drugs or they take a route like that, a route I didn't choose to take,” Hatfield says.
Legends of Los Angeles traffic
As I watch him dance, his adoring fans occasionally walk by on foot to say hi. One man invites Hatfield to his jacuzzi party. Familiar faces stop by and nod in his direction. From below, there are friendly honks. And sometimes angry ones. They both sound the same, but a honk from a smiling driver somehow has a different ring to it. Either way, though, Hatfield’s love for all the commuters seems genuine. He got the idea for dancing on San Francisco’s overpasses while caught in legendary Los Angeles rush hour.
“Well, honestly, I was stuck in the traffic and I was looking around. Everyone just looks so down in the dumps,” Hatfield says. “No one seems happy.”
Friend of the California Highway Patrol
He first started dancing on the Mission Street exit going towards Daly City. But he didn’t like dancing on a slant, so he moved by the overpass near the Glen Park Bart station. But before long, police asked him to leave. Even now, highway patrolmen sometimes drop by.
“And they're like, ‘You know, we received a call that someone is trying to jump off a bridge. Is that you?’ And actually, I'm not trying to jump off a bridge. And it's totally fine, you know?” Hatfield says.
But just to be on the safe side, he only comes out when traffic is jammed.
“Thanks to technology, you can go onto google and see the specific traffic for a specific time and the days of the week,” Hatfield explains. “So, I track the traffic so I know what's going on. If it’s not backed up by Cesar Chavez, then I know eventually … where if it's backed up traffic, bumper to bumper, it's okay.”
The people of the overpasses
Hatfield doesn’t want to be the “Guy on the Overpass” forever. He wants to start a mass movement -- the People on the Overpasses, rocking out in freestyle dance sessions on overpasses across the nation. He says that after three years of overpass jiving, he’s going to retire. That means he’s got one year left, and then he plans on heading to Union Square to dance on the street.
“So I'm working on something right now to do with that, and I also want to create like a love train and have people come out and we dance and just spread love and that would be a great way to build community and get people to come out,” Hatfield says.
And then...we pivot
Before I go, I ask him to show me some of his tricks. Nothing too wild.
“So it's very simple, it's like a turn, so you take your leg like this and then you pivot,” Hatfield tells me. I ask him to show me again.
“But, I do it like all the way around, but you have to do it really fast, really fast,” he explains. “And then like you know you pose with the heart. People, like, really like that...you know?”
Eventually, I get it down. We pivot. We pivot together. I look down at the traffic. No one is honking. I have a feeling that if I waved a heart of my own, someone down there would look up, and wave back. Maybe next time. Hatfield says he’s always accepting dance partners.