What is music? At its best, it is a reflection of the aroused human state. It is lava in your belly and a heart in your throat. It is a declarative, a command – dance. It becomes part of your body and your body becomes part of it – deeply intertwined, seemingly interchangeable.
For Gina Marie Hesse, or DJ GForce, the relationship between music and dance is acutely personal and utterly indispensable. GForce’s sound is rooted in hip-hop and reggae, and, when mixed, they form a sonic union called jungle music. There’s a reason for this name – her sound has a wild severity. She tells a visceral story. Your skin grows humid as you dance to her rhythm. You are drawn into a state both Amazonian and primal, and this is how jungle music earned its name. It drums, beckoning you to explore. Music and dance, DJ and dancer, one informs the other. Their relationship is complex, inseparable, and very much alive inside her.
Hesse started out conventionally enough. She grew up on Long Island, N.Y., with her grandmother, parents and three sisters. There wasn’t much money, but they could afford a pair of $7 drumsticks and some busted-up tap shoes.
“That’s where my love of jungle music started, those beats. Those beats! I danced to them. I dreamed of making them, too,” she says.
Ever since she was a kid, rhythm and dance have defined Hesse’s life. She picked up the drums in fourth grade, and now, more than 20 years later, the music she makes is electronic, mixed on turntables. She grew up on ballet and tap. Today, she teaches hip-hop to 30 students at Berwick Academy.
“When I choreograph, I listen to the beats and the bass line, same as what I listen to while DJ’ing,” she says. “I get people bouncing on the dance floor.”
“If you compare the dance floor to life, it can be seen as a microcosm,” Haigh says. “A knowledgeable DJ has a sense of what will awaken the dancer’s spirit. The experience is communal.”
Hesse, who lives in South Portland, is planning an after-hours party at A Space for Grace, a studio atop the Enterprise building on Marginal Way in Portland. She is headlining alongside a few other DJs she brought up from New York. By working overtime as a waitress at Thatcher’s, she has financed the party single-handedly.
“Every penny I made this month, every cent is going to this party,” she says. “But it’s worth it. I’m doing this!”
She is wearing a T-shirt and baggy jeans. Her dark, penny-red hair falls in thick curls just below her shoulders. She radiates calm, even in the midst of the chaos of preparing for the party.
“She is so versatile,” boasts her girlfriend, Jewelz Perry. “She does everything with strength and passion.”
Hesse earned a bachelor’s degree in Dance Studies from C.W. Post Long Island University.
Electronic music found her while she was there.
“I wanted to make those beats. It was a faraway dream. I couldn’t afford the equipment,” she says. But then, kismet: Hesse’s sister started dating a DJ (now her brother-in-law), who gave her some top-shelf vinyl turntables.
“There they were just collecting dust,” she says, “so I took it upon myself to lug them down to the basement. I messed around, found a ghetto amp, bought some needles, and that was the beginning.”
In 2007, Hesse moved to Maine and started a residency at Berwick Academy instructing modern dance. By 2010, she opened a small dance studio in Biddeford, where she taught hip-hop, while still teaching at Berwick. She had a hardy group of students, but by 2012 the cost of maintaining the studio became too much and she owed her landlord money. In the move out, her turntables got left behind. When she came back to retrieve them, the doors were locked. Her decks, those exquisite instruments, were lost.
Her resolve to continue teaching took her across town to a more affordable, but decidedly rundown, space. For a year she struggled to keep the new studio alive, while also giving out generous scholarships – more, really, than she could sustain.
“I had a lot of disadvantaged kids, but it was all for the love of the kids and the game,” she says.
In the end, there just wasn’t enough money.
While confronting the loss of her studio, Hesse segued into a new – and artistically crucial – phase of her life. She discovered a club in Portland called Flask Lounge, where live electronic music is given a regular spotlight, and new DJs are a kinetic welcome.
“I didn’t even know there was a scene in Portland,” Hesse says. “The vibe was great. It felt like a family.”
Soon she was throwing down in front of a crowd for the first time. Now she hosts her own night at Flask, every third Sunday, called Sundaze. There are no other female DJs running their own night, she says. And so she is a pioneer of sorts, and hopes other female DJs will follow.
There are two Gina Marie Hesses: One is GForce, whose natural reserve is shed completely when she is making music at midnight. The other is Gina the teacher, whose vigor and compassion are a bold lesson – put your faith in rhythm and you will find truth on the dance floor.
For information about DJ Gforce’s upcoming events, see www.facebook.com/Gforcebass/