Regent Park in Toronto’s downtown east side is known for many things; however, it is the lingering and often misleading stereotype of being “one of the poorest neighbourhoods,” that shapes most people’s perspective of this area. Despite this misperceived backdrop of despair, the area has always maintained an unshakeable sense of community with generations of families calling the area home. Demographically the area has changed substantially, from a predominantly working class and low-income Irish composition during the early 1900s, to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up brought on by changes in Canadian Immigration policies from the 1960s and 1970s.
Today the make-up in Regent Park (based on ethnicity) consists of the following: Aboriginal 1.52%, Black13.64%, Recent Immigrant 6.06%, White 13.64%, South Asian 19.70%, African 45.45%, Southeast Asian 12.12%, Hispanic 3.03%, West Indian 1.52%, and Arab 3.03%. These figure help to distinguish shifts in the cultural landscape that suggest long-standing Euro-centric traditions, like Halloween, are almost destined to experience a certain amount of bifurcation or hybridity if they are to continue. And it is precisely at this point that cultural traditions become all the more interesting.
“The Monster Mash” a song by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, at first glance sits firmly entrenched in the Anglo-European tradition of Halloween, but does that bare out under closer scrutiny? Written in the early 1960s, in a period in American musical history that was heavily influenced the black musical traditions of “gospel, jump blues, boogie, rhythm and blue, and country music” (Christ-Janer, Albert, Charles W. Hughes, and Carleton Sprague Smith, American Hymns Old and New (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 364, ISBN 0-231-03458-X). The Monster Mash, in fact, owes as much to the musical styles of Dee Dee Sharp and other performers such James Brown, Carlton“King”Coleman, and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, all whom recorded some version of the Mashed Potato (a song very similar in structure to The Monster Mash). And so, from the beginning, The Monster Mash, is a product of hybridity. One trend interacting with another, creating an offspring that is the mix of both.
Therefore, embracing The Monster Mash dance and the traditions of Halloween, becomes for newcomers an avenue for integration – the term Mash itself refers to a mix, or a melange – an appropriate metaphor for the mix of cultures and traditions that underpins all celebrations, be they religious, political, or secular.
Integration and inclusion are at the heart of what the Friends of Regent Park, a community-based organisation made-up of people that work together to support green space, cultural, and recreational activities in Regent Park is all about. And this year, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts our social fabric, the Friends of Regent Park organized a virtual Halloween celebration. A mash-up of old and new, they mixed, pumpkin carving video tutorials, with pumpkin recipes that incorporate Asian flavours, and last of all that icon of the Halloween tradition, The Monster Mash Dance, presented by three members of Square Circle (a Regent Park non-profit) dedicated to engaging, educating and empowering youth through the use of Social Circus and creative arts.
In a short video, Jacob, Zahra, and Bayle, breakdown and breakout the unique dance moves (The Frankenstein, The Mash, The Crank, The Wolf, and The Rip) that make the song so mesmerizingly appealing. While Jacob and Zahra perform standing up, Bayle offers a version of the movements sitting down, demonstrating, how someone with mobility issues need not feel excluded.
The Monster Mash, a cultural mash-up, a cultural breakdown, a cultural icon of inclusivity.
By Dimitrije Martinovic
Dimitrije is a staff member at FOCUS MEDIA ARTS CENTRE