Bethesda Struts Its Stuff with Annual Dance Bethesda
Dance festival takes over the downtown.
Imagination Stage is always full of activity, and Saturday night was no exception, but with a twist. Rather than one of its classes or productions aimed at a young audience, it was host to a largely adult audience for the dance concert portion of the seventh annual Dance Bethesda festival, produced by the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District and Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP).
Lesole’s Dance Project opened with the street and traditional dance of South Africa. ClancyWorks’ strong, graceful partnering riveted the audience. The thundering heels, dramatic flash and fire of flamenco dancers from Furia Flamenca brought down the (full) house. The three regional acts were joined by four from Bethesda, with ballroom theatre arts from DuShor Dance Studio, Bollywood from Urban Impact/Joy of Motion Dance Center, a Haitian dance from Dansez! Dansez! and tango from Dance Bethesda studio.
While the pros were on stage Saturday night, Friday night saw amateur adults from Gen Y to Gen AARP, from beginners to accomplished boogiers, having fun at free dance parties at DuShor and Dance Bethesda. New this year, activities for young people were consolidated into a Youth Dance Party presented by a partnership of Joy of Motion Dance Center, Dansez! Dansez! and Imagination Stage. Young people ages 10-17 headed to Imagination Stage for free lessons and demos in styles from hip-hop to modern dance.
Joy of Motion executive director Doug Yeuell proposed a dance festival for Bethesda in 2004, and the timing was right. Since 2002, when Bethesda was designated as an Arts & Entertainment District by the state of Maryland, BUP had been working closely with community members to come up with new arts initiatives, but there wasn’t yet one to highlight all the dance taking place in the city. According to BUP Director of Marketing and Communications Stephanie Coppula, they also liked the idea of adding an event people could enjoy indoors in the winter.
In 2005 a sold-out crowd attended the inaugural Dance Bethesda Dance Concert for modern dance, ballet and hip-hop performances. Over the years the concert has also encompassed Indian dance, stepping, Chinese dance, tap and contemporary, bringing in talented companies from around the region. In 2008, Dance Bethesda was honored with the prestigious Metro DC Dance Award for Best Overall Production in a Small Venue.
The festival has maintained its size strategically since inception, Yeuell said, but “it’s gained profile, presence and prominence and become much more of an institution.”
According to Coppula, last year 350 people attended the concert, and the dance studios each attract about 200 a night for lessons and parties.
Besides the new youth party, there have been other changes this year. The dance concert’s regular venue, Round House Theatre, was not available, so it landed (gracefully) at Imagination Stage. Also, the usual juried selection process for the companies performing was suspended this year, said Coppula, in favor of more emphasis on the Bethesda companies profiling their professional dancers, though there are still regional groups involved, too.
Asked about his vision for the festival going forward, Yeuell said, “I would hope we would continue this theme of collaboration and connectivity among the dance organizations in downtown Bethesda. It’s a great foundation to grow from.” In addition, he’d like to bring back the master classes Dance Bethesda has included in the past, “or special types of learning experiences…and focus on how dance empowers, brings community to life.” He added, “I would love to see the festival become weekend long,” filling Sunday with programming. So would the Bethesda area’s dance enthusiasts!