The Dallas Dance Fest Is Back, Bigger than Ever

The Dallas Dance Fest Is Back, Bigger than Ever
Serkan Zanagar

The Dallas DanceFest is back. After a 10-year hiatus, the festival that began with outdoor performances at the Annette Strauss Square returns with the same premise but a new venue, the Dallas City Performance Hall.

Its original debut in 1985 started off small, featuring only three companies: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and the now defunct Dancers Unlimited and Ballet Dallas. These were the main players in the city back then, with Dancers Unlimited being the starting place for many modern dancers and choreographers still working and creating now, and Ballet Dallas was the training ground for many dancers still performing today.

The festival grew to include the similarly growing dance community, and involved regional and national companies who were members of the Dance Council of North Texas - each group subjected to the same application and jury process. The festival quickly became a Labor Day tradition, had a name change in the middle of its growth spurt (you might remember it as The Dallas Morning News Dance Festival), and operated for 20 years, before calling it quits in 2004.

But the community missed it. I know I did. I still have memories of waking up really early, having breakfast with my dad while he tried to wrap my waist-long hair into a tight bun, fidgeting the whole time with excitement because I just couldn't wait to go and dance with my friends. I remember having to be so careful to not get any grass stains on my pink tights and climbing up the back stairs onto the stage with a stomach full of butterflies because the audience was right there, so close I could touch them. Years later, I still live for the moment to interact with an audience, and I have the DanceFest experience to thank for that. Starting this fall, a new generation of audiences and dancers will also have that chance.

Produced once again by Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas, the DanceFest will move indoors for the first time and into its new home, the Dallas City Performance Hall, August 29-31. Bringing back this festival is a smart move on behalf of the Dance Council. It calls attention to the growing dance community in Dallas--as new companies keep popping up and have tripled over the last five years--and the development of Dallas a city for dance and for the arts.

"It's a catalyst for bringing the dance community back together. Dance is strong here, and this is a great opportunity for an assemblage of dance companies and audiences to be together in one place. It brings what we have to offer as a city to the next level," says Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS and one of the jurors for the DanceFest.   Santos, along the rest of the panel of jurors that included, dance instructor Kim Able, dancer-choreographer-actor Christopher Vo, tap dancer and teacher Misty Owens, and classical Indian dance teacher Revathi Satyu, viewed applications for 48 companies and choreographers. They then sent in their rankings to Halperin and the Dance Council, who put together the final program that features 18 companies, three of whom are invited, non-juried, participants: Texas Ballet Theater, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the Bruce Wood Dance Project.

The local companies that were selected this year are Avant Chamber Ballet, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, DBDT's second company Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation, tap group Rhythmic Souls, and newly selected Ewert & Company (they are replacing New York's BODYART). Additionally, a number of educational ensembles made the cut--Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Dance Repertory I and II, Movers Unlimited of Tarrant County College, Southern Methodist University Dance Ensemble--as did ballet school companies Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Chamberlain Performing Arts, Dallas Ballet Company, and Mejia Ballet International. Finally, the out of town performers come from Kansas City (Chado Danse) and Houston (MET Dance).

While most of us could have predicted the local companies that would be selected--and there are a handful of popular companies who are not represented this year--it is exciting to see 14-year-old Ewert & Company being recognized. Directed by Anna Marie Ewert-Pittman, a much-loved instructor and whose company always wows when they grace the stage, their work promises to bring something inventive and risk-taking, while tapping on your heart, willing you to let them in.

"My pieces are usually very personal and I keep them very close, but I always hope that everyone in the audience will find something to connect with...I am excited to share Not so Carefully Kept with the Dallas DanceFest," says Ewert-Pittman.

It is also exciting to see tap dance represented, as it is commonly the most overlooked and under-appreciated dance form. But tap has gone through a transformation since its heyday in the Hollywood movie musical era--from a form of entertainment to a form of artistic expression and emotional exploration. It's truly unique in the way that it requires the performer to be both musician and dancer. And Dallas has something unique to offer for the tap dancer: we are one of the few cities that hosts a full-time professional tap dance company, Rhythmic Souls.

"When I got the news that we had been accepted to perform, I was immediately excited, and when I saw the list of performers that we would share the stage with, my jaw dropped," says Rhythmic Souls founder Katelyn Harris. "Dallas has everything it takes to become one of the national leaders in arts and culture, and this annual performance is just the thing we need to let the community know just how much talent and ingenuity exists right here at home."

So regardless of the night you attend, there is a little bit of something for everyone. "It will be an enjoyable weekend of dance," says Santos, and "the inclusion of non-Dallas based companies raises the bar for local companies. It pushes them to create and perform on a national level."

That can only produce positive results, one of them being the integration of technique from these varying companies, the opportunity for an exchange of ideas, and the possibility of future collaborations and group performances.

"Dance in Dallas is booming...and I see more collaboration within the dance community than every before. [We're] thrilled to be a part of the festival and share the stage with some many amazing dance groups," says Katie Puder, artistic director of Avant Chamber Ballet, who will be performing Christopher Wheeldon's pas de deux from "There Where She Loved."

Joshua Peugh, artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, echoes Puder's feelings: "I think it's really important to showcase work that is made and produced in the region. The potential for Dallas to become a major voice in the dance industry is huge, and having a dance festival that celebrates excellence in locally made work will certainly aid in that."

Further, the DanceFest offers local writers the chance to up their own game and cover dance at a new level. "I think it goes without saying that more dance performances inspire more dance writers," says Katie Dravenstott, a writer for "The Dallas DanceFest is just the kind of event that can demonstrate to aspiring writers that there are tons of great opportunities to write about dance right here in their own backyard."

It's been 10 years in the making for the festival to return. The city is primed and ready for it, as we are witnessing a boom in an interest for dance. Only time will tell if the DanceFest will be able to sustain itself once again, and if the local dance community will continue to turn out in support of itself.

The Dallas DanceFest performs at the Dallas City Performance Hall August 29-31.

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