Bay Area Dance Week Says “Kick Up Your Heels!”

By Jean Schiffman

If you think you can’t dance, Bay Area Dance Week could change your mind.

Bay Area Dance Week, a 10-day, Bay Area-wide extravaganza of classes, open rehearsals, lecture/demonstrations and performances, all free, is now 21 years old and stronger than ever, with an expected 20,000 attendees who, trained or not, are likely to kick up their heels along with the 2,500 participating artists. Think of it as Open Studios for dance lovers of all stripes, and as an opportunity for the uninitiated to convert.

For example, the traditional kickoff event, “One Dance,” which last spring attracted 1,000
enthusiasts to City Hall, this year is slated for a more expansive venue, Yerba Buena Gardens, to accommodate an even larger crowd. To participate, go online beforehand to learn the steps,
then show up on April 26 at 12 noon for a half hour or so of flash-mob-style dancing led by
Dudley Flores and Rhythm and Motion.

But that’s only one among 400 events in genres ranging from hula to classical Indian to
fire dance to belly dance and much more, in San Francisco, down the Peninsula as far as San Jose,
in the East Bay and in Marin and Sonoma counties.

“Looking back to the origins of Bay Area Dance Week [initially called Bay Area National Dance Week before local participating groups decided to put the focus on the artists working here], the conversation in the community was, How can we make dance more visible?” says Wayne Hazzard, the executive director of Dancers’ Group, which has presented Dance Week since the festival’s inception. “That conversation hasn’t changed at all,” he adds.

If the need for visibility still exists, it’s not because Dance Week is not a huge success.
But, says Hazzard, when he speaks with elected officials—say, Nancy Pelosi’s staff in Washington, D.C.—about funding, and he tells them that there are over 700 dance companies in our region, they are usually astounded. The facts are that San Francisco Ballet is the oldest ballet company in the nation, that there is work being created here that can’t be found anywhere else in the world and that the Bay Area, from Isadora Duncan forward, has always been a mecca for innovation. As Hazzard observes, “Even with the economy doing what it’s done, young dancers still move here with dreams of creating their own company, or dancing with acclaimed companies like Theatre Flamenco, or the Chitresh Das Dance Company or Patrick Makuakane’s Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu.”

People who want to learn to fly come here, he continues, for Bandaloop, for aerial choreographers like Jo Kreiter or Joanna Haigood (Flyaway’s “The Wait Room,” a site-specific work downtown, is part of Dance Week), or to join with groups exploring social issues or working with all body types, like Oakland’s AXIS Dance Company (which has an open rehearsal this year).

Among the more unusual events during this year’s celebration is a class on dancing with Parkinson’s; the dance community, explains Hazzard, is continuing to discover “how we can heal and support people who are at different stages of their lives, whether dealing with illness or not.” In Berkeley, there’s Big Moves’ “Dance for Every Body,” which encourages people of all sizes to feel good about their bodies.

Another rare opportunity: “Intro to Poi Spinning,” which is a form involving “swinging and dancing with tethered weights,” and “Bulbfest 2019: Resilience,” a site-specific performance at the old shoreline construction debris landfill on the Bay in Albany.

Particularly popular activities include “Dancing in the Park,” when about 30 different groups perform on Golden Gate Park’s bandshell; “Fan Fest” at the San Francisco Ballet, which this year has increased its capacity to 1,200 to accommodate all the balletomanes who want to observe a company class (and maybe try on a tutu at the interactive booths outside the Opera House); Brava’s dances on the street in front of the Precita Eyes murals in the Mission District; and the ever-popular shuffle-off-to-Buffalo lessons.

Two awards are part of the lineup each year. This year, the Dancers’ Choice Award, selected from among about 150 nominations from the community, goes to Silicon Valley’s Sangam Arts, an organization that enables dancers of diverse backgrounds to collaborate and co-create.

And the Della Davidson Award, in honor of the late choreographer known for her blend of theater, movement, stories and live sound, goes to Sarah Bush. Bush’s recent premiere for her Sarah Bush Dance Project, “Spirit & Bones,” was multigenerational and, says Hazzard, typifies Davidson’s spirit.

Among other participatory activities: Norwegian folk dancing (and lots of other styles of folk dancing as well); intro to hula; beginning hip-hop; classes for kids; Pilates; “Showgirl Awakening 101”; a hard-hat tour of Smuin Ballet’s new digs-in-development; “Swing Dance Taster Class”; salsa, tango, Indian classical, belly dancing, modern and much more—in fact, so much more that it makes no sense to say, “I’m not a dancer.” Which, comments Hazzard, is what most people claim (full disclosure: guilty as charged). “You have a body,” he points out. Er, yes. “You can move, you can laugh, you can be silly or serious, you can engage in whatever way feels right.” As longtime local dancer Joan Lazarus remarked back in the early days of Bay Area Dance Week, “We all have the same instrument: our bodies. And we all dance.” 


Bay Area Dance Week

April 26 → May 5

Various venues