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Dancin' in the Street features locals, live music and lots of lager

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Every May brings salty air, sunshine and booze. Most important, though, May 20 brings us Dancin' in the Street. For those who don't know, Dancin' in the Street (DITS) is a local street fair that's quite familiar to the inhabitants of the Jacksonville beaches. This daylong event, stretching from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., takes place smack-dab in the middle of official event sponsor Beaches Town Center, with an epicenter at the ocean end of Atlantic Boulevard. Funds raised at DITS help beautify Beaches Town Center and the event itself promotes local shops and businesses while creating a fun environment for residents to kick back and enjoy a Saturday.

Included in the fray are a multitude of local bands, tasty grub, alcoholic beverages and opportunities to purchase jewelry and artwork. Musical acts to perform include Bay Street, Briteside, Five O'Clock Shadow, Party Cartel and others. A detailed schedule and information on various stations for services and purchases can be found on the Beaches Town Center website.

This year ushers in new additions such as updated fencing, tighter security and a bigger and more interactive Kids Zone. The Kids Zone has now been moved to the parking lot between Hawker's Asian Street Fare and Mezza, allowing a wider space and more opportunities for fun. Another new feature is the nonprofit area. As explained by Patsy Bishop, one of the event's founders, there will be "about 10 nonprofits that are from the beaches that are going to be talking to people about what they do." Attendees who are 21 and older should take note that this year, beer stands have been relocated from Atlantic Boulevard to Ocean Boulevard.

A number of committees led by individuals throughout the community put much effort into putting on this event. Bishop believes that the committee leaders "play a key role" in contributing to the occasion. She also explains that the planning begins in January and doesn't end until the event itself has concluded.

After telling me about the organizational structure of the event, Bishop discussed the idea behind DITS and how it has evolved over the years. She said her favorite part of DITS is "putting people in good jobs," and added that she's a big delegator who will "see somebody's strength, find their strength and put them in that position." This organization method seems to work; DITS brings in around 400 to 450 volunteers who sell tokens in the Kids Zone, hand out drinks, set up displays and more.

A majority of the funds raised during Dancin' in the Street go to help Beaches Town Center pay for holiday decorations and other celebrations at the beaches. Bishop explained that the money from DITS has helped the "[light] 220 trees, put up the surfboards and the lifeguard chairs and the Christmas tree." She explained these things are not funded by the city, as most people probably assume, but by Beaches Town Center itself. Another interesting factoid? The schools and organizations that volunteer in the Kids Zone get to keep the funds they raise. Bishop said that she sees this aspect as a win-win, with the organizations that run booths benefitting financially while helping DITS succeed.

Bishop said that the idea for this now very popular event started with a visit to a fair in Miami in 1984. When she saw the fair, Bishop thought, "We can do this." Subsequently, Bishop, her sister Marsha Holton and fellow shop owners Gayle Hart and David Hansford, among others, founded DITS.

From its humble beginnings in 1984 to present day, Dancin' in the Street has continued growing and expanding; over the years, the loose affiliation that comprised Beaches Town Center, formerly known as Atlantic Land Merchant's Association, has grown to become a nonprofit powerhouse, hosting the annual shindig that's a favorite of many musicians, artists and shop owners.

Some may wonder how Bishop, after 34 years, stays motivated to organize DITS time after time. She explains it simply, "It's a labor of love." Over the years, she has enjoyed watching generations of families grow up and expand. "A lot of kids grew up coming and then they worked it when they were in high school and now they're bringing their kids." To her, Dancin' in the Street is not about the money, it's about a positive method of promoting the local community. She wouldn't want it any other way.

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Dancin in the Street, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, May 20, free to attend. Details at beachestowncenter.com.

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