Tonight Jessica Mashburn is a DJ, posted in the raised corner of the lounge at Print Works Bistro while a genuine disco ball throws raindrops of light across the walls.
The regulars show precisely at 10 p.m. to this pop-up dance party; 45 minutes in, they’re keeping three bartenders and a cocktail waitress hopping with complicated drink orders as dancers fight for space on the floor before the DJ stand. By 11 p.m., the first conga line snakes past the wait station and through the lounge.
“Happy anniversary, Crystal and Jeff!” she shouts through the mic.
The party ends at 1 a.m., so Mashburn’s taking them up a steep curve with some classic disco and a little Bollywood before dropping “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi’s slow-burn dancehall grind with Damn Yankee — the version without Justin Bieber. The number incites vigorous activity on the dance floor, where sweat and hormones are starting to flow.
“[This song] will be requested four or five more times tonight,” Mashburn says as an aside to a reporter.
And then it’s “Dancing Queen,” by Abba, and women take turns standing on the raised platform in front of her DJ stand, dancing to the appreciative crowd.
See that girl. Watch that scene. Dig the dancing queen.
“Abba-dabba do it!” Mashburn implores from her perch.
She’s forsaken her usual headgear tonight — a collection of hats, headdresses and fascinators that take up an entire wall of the bedroom she’s appropriated into a costume closet — her hair now in low pigtails and a pair of oversize, pink-tinted glasses that wouldn’t look out of place resting on the nose of Elton John. She’s bouncing and sliding, pumping and rolling her arms so enthusiastically it looks like she might be sneaking in a workout.
The night wears on as a soft, coppery rain falls on the fancy cars in the parking lot and a patron hustles outside to put the top up on his convertible. The demographic swirls with young professionals, empty-nest scenesters and veteran club-hoppers, not too young and not too old, with nowhere else to go on a Friday night.
“There’s not a lot of classy places in town to go dancing,” Mashburn says. Where craft beer, tattoos and local bands are the cultural mainstream, the pop-up dance crowd in Greensboro is a genuine subculture.
She identified and built this scene through hustle and drive, landing it at Print Works, whose parent company, Quaintance-Weaver Mashburn has been associated with since she used to wait tables at the Green Valley Grill more than a decade ago. Now she regularly works wedding receptions here at the Proximity Hotel and the O. Henry Hotel, both as a DJ and performer, and programs all the music for other QW properties.
And then there’s this pop-up dance party, a way to make the party public.
It’s got the feel of a great wedding reception, a country-club social, the nightclub of a high-end cruise ship, a high-school reunion afterparty. Jessica Mashburn owns it: their diva, their interlocutor, their dancing queen.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she shouts into the mic, “Lexie is getting married tomorrow!”
Upstairs in the Midtown home she shares with fellow performer Evan Olson, across from his studio in the loft, she keeps her finery.
There’s a wall of costumes, every one she’s ever made: a Wonder Woman suit, a Rockford peaches uniform from A League of Their Own, along with patterned dresses and separates in a full rainbow. The top shelf tumbles with headpieces, some she made for High Point Furniture Market with couches and dressers, others for New Year’s Eve, one for the last episode of “TheLate Show with David Letterman,” another with the five Olympic rings. She made one of a literal house of cards, to commemorate both the Netflix show and the precarious nature of our government. And there’s one she made just last month, the “Spy-crowave,” a shot at the Russia scandal enveloping the Trump White House.
There are pillboxes and sun hats, boas and beads, masks, tiaras, false flowers for her hair, wigs, a cascade of party shoes. Brooches, scarves, wraps, medallions, colors that mimic the brightly colored houses in certain Caribbean neighborhoods.
It’s difficult to tell if the wardrobe is part of her act, or if her act is an extension of the wardrobe.