If it takes bravery to be responsible for whether dozens of strangers enjoy a party, Selena Garrison said her courage is “selective.”

It didn’t come naturally, the Keene DJ said, and doesn’t always apply to other parts of her life. Garrison’s endurance, she added, is also selective when it comes to music.

“If you ask me to run a mile, I might kind of whine and moan and groan the whole time as I’m doing it,” she said. “But on the dancefloor, I suddenly can go for hours.”

It was courage that led Garrison about a decade ago to try her hand DJing a variety of local events.

She’d always been interested in music, taking piano lessons for many years as a child in Atlantic City, N.J., and joining the marching band, concert band and jazz band while in high school. Even then, Garrison said she liked playing pop music for other people — though her equipment at the time was a Sony boombox. She also inherited a passion for dancing from her mother, Kathie, so laying a beat was only natural.

“Let’s say I remember Motown and I remember the sound of Philadelphia,” she said coyly while declining to share her age. “I lived through disco and new wave and all the different genres since then.”

Garrison nearly launched a music career much earlier, saying she considered studying the subject in college. But she decided against it because going into the industry seemed risky, instead opting for a degree in history and social studies education from Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

After school, Garrison said, a friend suggested they head north. The New Jersey native moved to Chesterfield in 1991 and settled in, save for one aspect of life in the Granite State.

“My biggest shock was learning how to deal with the fact that you can’t just order a slice of pizza at a pizzeria,” she said. “… Once I got past that, things got a lot easier.”

After working a variety of odd jobs, Garrison latched on as a paraprofessional in a local school district, providing one-on-one assistance to students in its special-education program. She then obtained a certificate in information technology from Franklin Pierce University and got a job with another area district in 2005, helping integrate tech into the classroom. She’s been there ever since, also earning a master’s degree in Internet engineering in the meantime.

“I’ve grown to really appreciate this generation because I find that they’re very matter-of-fact and they don’t let other people define them,” she said of her students. “And I find that very refreshing.”

But the students were being shortchanged in at least one area: The music played at school dances was outdated and “kind of lame,” according to Garrison.

Believing she could do better, she started her own DJing service. The early years were quite lean, Garrison said, since she had to put much of her earnings into buying new equipment.

“I do it for the love of it, not simply because I need it as an income,” she said.

That means Garrison can afford to perform at just the events she’d like to work, typically taking a few each month. Her repertoire is nonetheless quite broad, ranging from school dances to corporate parties and class reunions.

Weddings are particularly special, even though they require a lot of work, Garrison said. She consults with the couple ahead of time, not only on a setlist but also to figure out the schedule for that day. Garrison, who makes sure her attire matches the wedding theme, said “country chic” is a popular choice.

“The stakes are really high because you’re talking about the most important day of their life,” she said. “So you want to make sure you get everything absolutely correct.”

Garrison said she’s very receptive to song requests but sometimes has to steer an event in the right direction herself. The best songs, she said, combine a catchy hook with a beat that makes people want to get out of their seats and move. For an older crowd, that’s “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. “SICKO MODE” by Travis Scott works for a younger audience. Flo Rida’s “Low” is always a hit, Garrison said.

Technology services and DJing rarely overlap, but Garrison said both pursuits demand that she keep up with the latest releases and trends.

For music, that means regularly checking the latest iTunes charts, which she said better reflect a song’s popularity than Spotify data because people have to pay for it on iTunes. Country music is a common request, Garrison said.

“That’s not a typical genre that I listen to, so I had to suddenly get a crash course in it,” she said.

Whether it’s working with students or spinning discs, Garrison said her objective is always to make sure people are happy.

That made the COVID-19 pandemic especially tough, she said, because places that would normally provide entertainment were unavailable. Garrison lost out on gigs for about a year and said she expects more cancellations with cases surging again.

“All the outlets that you would want to have at a time of extreme stress, you don’t have access to,” she said. “Dancing and music and going out and having a good time — all those things that honestly help make life worth living.”

Tragedy has shaped Garrison’s outlook aside from the pandemic: Three of her four siblings have died from cancer, including, most recently, one her brothers in February. Their deaths made her realize life is short and meant to be enjoyed, she said.

By getting people dancing, Garrison hopes she can help.

“I pride myself on putting on a performance,” she said. “My mission is to have people have a great time. That’s the most important goal.”

Caleb Symons can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420, or csymons@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @CalebSymonsKS.