63 Things Every Portlander Must Do

Must Do: Culture

Recommendations by Christina Sells, Sarah Dougher, Nate Overmeyer, Thomas Lauderdale, and Matt Zaffino on how to get down with Portland culture. Sneak peak must-do's: listen to folk music, learn how to dance, and get retired.

By Karen Brooks July 14, 2010 Published in the August 2010 issue of Portland Monthly


Christina Sells cuts a rug at the Grand Café American Restaurant.

Dance with Class

CHRISTINA SELLS —artist, designer, and animation veteran of Will Vinton Studios—runs a lakeside apartment complex. But by night, she dances, sometimes as a body-shaking percussionist with the Lions of Batucada marching samba band, other times flitting in a single night from a tango class to the dance floor in front of a Balkan band. It’s easy, she says. In Portland, there’s a veritable United Nations of dance classes readily available (for a guide, try portlanddancing.com). For Sells, it’s about endorphins, meeting people, and avoiding the gym. Uncertain about your moves? Follow Sells’s advice: start with the music you like, then learn the dances that go with it.


Begin with the basics: Learn to do a couple-based style like the East Coast Swing (a choreographed dance to do with a partner), the Lindy Hop (fast-paced jitterbugging), or cha-cha from Rachel Lidskog (2dancewithjoy.com) or Susan Molitor (susanmolitor.net). Both are premier teachers who are great with newcomers.

Folkloric dance: Center Space Studio, a warm and slightly funky space, offers dynamic classes in Cuban, Brazilian, and African, plus hip-hop-inspired krump, popping and locking, and house. Owner Donna Oefinger is high-energy and highly knowledgeable. 420 SE Sixth Ave; centerspaceportland.com

Argentine tango: This dance style requires cultlike devotion, and Portland—one of the country’s tango meccas—has plenty of it. Get hooked with a class at Tango Berretín from tango guru Alex Krebs, a “young genius known in tango communities around the world,” says Sells.
6305 SE Foster Rd; 503-771-7470; tangoberretin.com

Get Hooked on Hootenanny

SARAH DOUGHER is the ringleader of Portland’s Flash Choir, a DIY community organizer, and a gender studies teacher at Portland State. Nate Overmeyer is an in-demand Generation X fundraiser, working to endow a chair at OHSU and for local institutions like the Portland Art Museum. But together, they are the Stumptown Family Ramblers, an occasional down-home hootenanny group founded last summer. The duo’s mutual love of old-timey music and its sing-along traditions, combined with Portland’s percolating alt folk/bluegrass/roots scene, became an unsquelchable urge to start a band and connect with a growing scene of local musicians, recordings, and concerts. But you don’t need to be a pro picker to have a hootenanny—as Overmeyer says, “Anyone can shake a tambourine.” 


Go: If you’re hankerin’ to hear some fine pickin’ and singin’, look no further than the cozy confines of Laurelthirst Public House. Settle in to a well-worn seat, sip on one of 20 or so local beers on tap, and enjoy Portland’s best new and veteran folk groups. 2958 NE Glisan St; laurelthirst.com

Listen: With acoustic instrumentation and deep roots in bluegrass and folk, the new quintet Black Prairie was founded by three members of Portland’s critically acclaimed Decemberists. Check out their debut album, Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, and catch them (and other premier Northwest indie roots artists) at Pickathon, August 6–8. blackprairie.com; pickathon.com

Get outfitted: Before heading out to a show, dude up at a local landmark: the Portland Outdoor Store, a rough-around-the-edges emporium jam-packed with Sta-Prest jeans, snap shirts, string ties and hand-stitched boots. Its building alone—one of the city’s oldest—is a tour of Portland’s hootenanny history. 304 SW Third Ave; 503-222-1051

Sample Local Music

WHEN KGW WEATHERMAN Matt Zaffino’s head isn’t filled with Doppler radar readings, it’s bobbing in cramped rock clubs, fitted with headphones jacked to deafening levels, or otherwise lost in a sea of rock-’n’-roll fantasies. “My ultimate rock-star fantasy is being the road manager for Chan Marshall,” Zaffino says. A staunch advocate for the past 22 years of Portland’s ever-abundant music scene, Zaffino has used his local celebrity status to host in-home concerts by little-known acts like Jim Brunberg, Tracy Grammer, Stacey Earle, and Sneakin’ Out. But even though his on-screen persona demands eyes free of red and bleariness, he’s still not afraid to brave the clubs—whether cozy or cavernous—in search of the next big thing.


Best place to see a new band: For new acts, Zaffino heads to Mississippi Studios. “The acoustics are good,” he says, “but what I really like is that everybody’s thrown together.” 3939 N Mississippi Ave. mississippistudios.com

Favorite local band: “I’m a big fan of Thomas Lauderdale, so I like pretty much anything Pink Martini does,” Zaffino says. “I’ve worked with Thomas a couple of times, and he’s just fantastic. But I gotta say: I’m becoming a Storm (Large) fan.”

Local album you should own (that you probably haven’t heard of): Little Sue Weaver’s The Long Goodbye. “The title song is about a breakup. It’s this sad and poignant and just goes somewhere for me. It hits the spot,” says Zaffino, who’s a fan of Weaver’s other projects, too. “A few years back she put together this collaboration with all these different Portland musicians at Fez Ballroom, and they performed Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ It was probably one of my favorite musical moments ever.” littlesue.com

Get a Degree in Portland Old School

THOMAS LAUDERDALE is the ringleader of Pink Martini, Portland’s homegrown orchestra-turned-international phenomenon with devout followers from Los Angeles to Paris. But offstage, Lauderdale is Portland’s good-will ambassador, a galvanizing fundraiser, and a chief curator of Portland nostalgia, who salvages bits of forgotten local history for his weathered three-story loft, and dreams of building a better Portland. (He’s even pondered running for mayor.)


Mary’s Club: This is the oldest strip joint west of the Cascades, and a rite of passage in Portland urban life. “I take all my out-of-town friends here,” says Lauderdale, “especially the ones from New York.” Mary’s is family-owned with the down-home friendliness of a neighborhood bar. Onstage, dancers elevate burlesque performance with the precision of symphony musicians and the grace of ballerinas. It’s worth a trip just for the murals of sexy sailors (think Paul Cadmus) painted by La Monte Montyne. 129 SW Broadway; marysclub.com


Thomas Lauderdale takes in the sights at Mary’s Club.

Cameron’s Books and Magazines: Open since 1938, the crammed aisles here hold an incredible back stock of old magazines like Life and Playboy, as well as obscure books you never knew you wanted. 336 SW Third Ave; cameronsbooks.com

Darcelle XV: Four decades and an uncountable number of boas later, America’s longest-running drag bar still stands in Old Town. Everyone from politicians to homemakers has come through these doors to marvel at the lip-synching female impersonators and join the boisterous party, led by the bedazzling Darcelle (a.k.a. Walter Cole) and her choreo-grapher partner, Roxy LeRoy. 208 NW Third Ave; darcellexv.com

Retired Associates of PSU: Lauderdale’s tip to friends over 50: check out this informal social club with programming on all aspects of local life, from the arts to politics to social issues. Always welcoming new members (dues are $15 annually), the group meets in the Multicultural Room of Portland State University’s student union the first two Thursdays of most months at 12:30 p.m. 

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