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Some of the teenagers have started pounding their fists. It's past eight o'clock on Friday night, and more than 40 young people have huddled outside the Circle of Discipline--a small nonprofit boxing gym located just off 12th Avenue and East Lake Street--where they're balling up their hands to strike so that they can get inside and dance. On any other night of the week, these kids might be throwing their jabs and body shots along with some of the most promising boxing talent in the Twin Cities. But tonight, as every Friday night for the past three months, the punching bags have come down and the disco balls have gone up.
"Man, I remember when barely anybody would show up for these parties," says one pint-size door-basher, waiting among the swelling crowd. "Now everybody knows about them--South, Southwest, North Side, everybody. Really, it's the only place us younger cats can go on a Friday night."
After ten years of operation as a community gathering place, martial-arts training room, and resource center, the Circle has only recently started pumping a tight selection of R&B, house, rap, and hip hop through its speakers. Considering the scarcity of teenage music venues in Minneapolis--especially those geared toward African Americans--it's easy to understand why the makeshift dance club usually fills its 350-person capacity within an hour of opening its doors.
While many clubs may shudder at the task of controlling hundreds of hormone-ridden urban adolescents, the Circle's head of security, Laura Guyton, tackles discipline directly.
"Listen up," she shouts to the pack of eager teens. "Welcome to the Circle of Discipline. I hope y'all have a good time tonight, but remember: This is our house and you gotta respect our rules. We don't allow caps, rags, or any sign of gang representation," she explains. "And if we smell marijuana or alcohol on you or if you just don't show respect, we'll ask you to leave."
After pausing for Guyton's plea, the DJ starts mixing CDs from the middle of the boxing ring, and the crowd chants along, bouncing to the heavy beats of Juvenile's "Back That Thang Up." A couple of open pockets have formed on the dance floor, allowing individuals to step in and strut their slickest stuff.
Later, when house music is played, amateur dance teams will take the floor and do battle in freestyle dance competitions. As the hard-hitting music explodes from the speakers, the burly Sankara Frazier--founding and leading member of the Circle of Discipline--swaggers into the club. Frazier immediately greets several of the teens with handshakes and high-fives. He already knows many of these kids from the time he spends in local schools, encouraging those who regularly get into trouble to come down to the gym.
"Before they learn discipline, [they] just have to give all that energy some focus," says Frazier. "I think these dances help with that."
The 43-year-old south Minneapolis native also notes that the Circle's dances have a more youth-centered perspective than most clubs. "Most places are...just out to make a buck," he says. "We're here to show and teach them respect. We want to give them someplace where they feel like they belong."
Having recently received a grant from the city, Frazier hopes to secure enough funding to keep the Circle open for longer hours. With a meager budget, the makeshift club has found it difficult to devote time to selecting DJs for the next dance party while training in novices for the next boxing match. Still, Frazier and the Circle of Discipline staff are committed to their cause and hope to launch other novel community projects. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.
The Circle of Discipline will hold a DJ dance party for ages 14+, 8:00 p.m. Friday, May 18; (612) 721-1549.