Winter can be a dark and dreary time of year, but the holidays make even the shortest and coldest days feel lively and bright. Helping make the season merry in the StL are D.J. Reggie and the Dancing Santas. Most of the year, they are a dance workout class known as the Hip Hop Mommas; however, when the calendar turns to December, they don Santa suits and perform choreographed routines in crosswalks and at events throughout the community. T&S caught up with leader Reggie Van Derson to learn more about how the group helps spread holiday cheer.

Where did the idea for the Dancing Santas come from?
It’s a funny story. One of our members, Cuppie, has a son in California, and he and his friends had gotten Santa suits. She didn’t want him to show us up, so she brought up the idea of getting them. We went out, and because we all love to dance, we’d start dancing. It made a huge scene, and inspired by James Corden’s crosswalk musicals, we thought we could do a similar performance. We started at the corner of Clayton and Lindburgh, and since then, it’s had a life of its own.

How does a typical crosswalk performance work?
It takes many hands to make everything right. First and foremost is safety. We go out and time the lights where we’ll be performing. We edit our music to that time, ensuring we have a window to get on and off while the light is red. We never want to impede traffic in any way. When we first started, people thought we would interfere, but it only takes 25 to 30 seconds to get through the chorus and hook of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” We get cars honking along. It spreads cheer, and people really love it.

When did you start working with nonprofits?
During our first crosswalk performance, someone pulled out some money. We were just there to dance, but that’s when it hit us that we should start doing charity work. One of our members suggested diapers for families in need. One of the first organizations we worked with is Toys for Tots, and that’s something we’ve continued. This year, we’re raising money for the 100 Neediest Cases program.

How has the Dancing Santas grown since it began?
Every year, we do more performances. When COVID hit, it really took off as a way to spread some holiday cheer. The Dancing Santas started out with us going to crosswalks and approaching charities to work with, but now, people and organizations are coming to us and asking if we could represent them. We start getting requests in September. We’ve performed at Garden Glow, 360 and the Van Gogh exhibit that was here a couple years ago. This year, we’re performing at the Saint Louis Art Museum for the first time. Our performance window is pretty short, only around three weeks, but that means the novelty doesn’t wear off and our Santas don’t get too exhausted performing. We’ve got around 15 events planned this year.

Do you have any interesting stories from performances?
We’re adults who get to act like kids once those Santa suits come on. Some of our funnest times are when we go out and get other people dancing. We’ve done holiday walks in Kirkwood and the Central West End, and it’s amazing to see the joy on the faces of kids. It’s infectious, and adults love our performances just as much. We get to mingle in the crowd and see how they react to us—people have a tendency to let loose. Christmas joy is really what we bring, and it’s so much fun watching how it spreads.

How can people keep up with the Dancing Santas?
They can find D.J. Reggie and the Dancing Santas on Instagram and Facebook. That’s also where you can find a schedule of our performances. Everyone is welcome to come and check us out. I’m so honored to get to dance with the Hip Hop Mamas, and if anyone is interested, they are welcome to join. I teach dance classes on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s a great way to have fun and make friends. The best part is the moves you learn in class become our choreography, so once the holiday season rolls around, you’re ready to be a Dancing Santa!

Photo courtesy of D.J. Reggie and the Dancing Santas