- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

It’s the last Friday night in February, and something’s definitely abuzz on 14th Street. The trendy furniture stores and coffee shops are closed for the night, but a steady stream of young people, guys and girls dressed every which way and of varied ethnicities and races, flows downtown and empties into the Black Cat.

It’s ladies’ night here at the club, but tonight it’s not about drink specials; it’s about the girls getting their due for a change. Tonight, the ladies take charge of the dance floor, spin the beats and make the club rock.

Dina Passman, 33 — paralegal by day, DJ by night — meets and greets the crowd while a twentysomething spins records and twists knobs, her tight curls spilling over dangly earrings and massive headphones. A year ago, Miss Passman would never have imagined the success of this group she founded, a ladies’ DJ collective devoted to showcasing a rare and often unsung brand of DJs who are out to finally make their mark.

The group was founded out of sheer frustration and necessity, Miss Passman explains. Two years ago, she was spinning at Dupont Circle’s Club Red, and she found herself panicking in the DJ booth, questioning her technical abilities. A male DJ partner tried to bail her out, but his song choice bombed, and the dance floor came to a halt. Although passionate about music and DJing, she immediately thought, “Forget this, this isn’t for me.” It wasn’t fun anymore.

“I was just going to quit,” she recalls. Now the seasoned DJ realizes that, up until that point, her skills had developed in isolation, and what she really needed was a community. She began finding exactly that at Washington’s August 2002 Ladyfest, an all-out extravaganza of female-oriented music, art and activism. “I had no contact with girl DJs up until that moment,” says Miss Passman, aka DJ Ladyplastik. Instead of giving up, she was going to get proactive.

She got in touch with a couple of those Ladyfest DJs, and in September, the First Ladies DJ Collective met for the first time. Once word got out, the District’s female “bedroom DJs” — industry terminology for stay-at-home DJs — started emerging, and now the group has a steady membership of nine, with plenty more clamoring to get on board.

Despite great strides made by women in the nation’s mainstream music scene, the DJ spinning records at the hottest club — or any club at all — usually is male. There’s nothing about DJing that’s inherently male, says DJ Rob Blum, known as DJ Milo. “I think guys are more encouraged to just jump into things and start twiddling knobs,” he says. “There’s also this mental attitude that women aren’t necessarily collectors, and music collecting is more of a geeky guy thing.”

FLDC member Danielle “DJ Danielita” Flores agrees. “People think girls can’t be music nerds and go out and spend $100 on records,” she says. Like other female DJs, Miss Flores, a 25-year-old George Washington University graduate student and part-time waitress, often finds herself the only woman in DJ-oriented record shops. DJing is technical, and “people think women can’t operate computers,” she adds. “They think that kind of thing is masculine.”

The once boys-only equipment and records are addictive, says Kristina Gray, 23, a nonprofit worker and FLDC’s DJ K La Rock. Once she bought her first LP, she was hooked. “Vinyl is tangible,” she gushes. “The music just seems so much larger than life. You can’t just reach out and touch an MP3.”

For self-identified novices such as Miss Gray and Miss Flores, the group provides a supportive forum to learn the basics of the trade from more experienced DJs. There’s no competitive edge, and the women, all in their 20s and 30s, are able to kick back, talk shop and plan some excellent events.

Their year-old monthly headliner event, Girl Friday, held the last Friday of every month at the Black Cat, has gained quite a following and manages to beckon scores of newcomers with a variety of monthly music themes and guest DJs. The result is perhaps one of the District’s most diverse crowds — with an equally diverse play list.

“We’re redefining what dance music can be,” Miss Gray says, “and creating the type of party we’d want to go to on a Friday night.”

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