New dance spaces and the Third Annual Ethnic Dance Festival mark an exciting time in the world of dance in Santa Cruz
Do you remember visiting Disneyland when you were a kid (or maybe with your kids) and taking a spin on the “It’s a Small World” ride? The little boats sail through all the cultures of the globe, as tiny robots representing the citizens of each country serenade visitors with the local dance, costume and culture. Sure it’s trite, and the cloying sweetness of the music may leave you wanting to abandon ship, but the idea of using dance as a way to unite the world’s cultures is one that should not be underestimated.
This weekend, the Third Annual Ethnic Dance Festival hits Santa Cruz by storm. A kind of live action version of “It’s a Small World,” dancers representing more than a dozen different cultures will assemble in Downtown Santa Cruz to offer classes and performances open to the public. This year, the festival has moved to Laurel Park behind Louden Nelson Center.
“We are excited about this location and moving our event to the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz,” says Abra Allan, director of Motion at the Mill and long-time coordinator for Santa Cruz Dance. We have also partnered with the new Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center to present this year’s event. This partnership, I feel, offers great prospects for the future of both organizations.” Dancers this year will represent indigenous styles from Cuba, Japan, Senegal, Haiti, Bali, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, among others.
The Ethnic Dance Festival is considered an invaluable annual event that brings world dance to Santa Cruz in a weekend spectacular. But what about the rest of the year? Let’s just say there is no longer a dearth of dance opportunities. In fact, a breath of new life has been blown into what was once Motion Pacific dance studio. Now called Motion at the Mill and run in collaboration with Santa Cruz Dance, Motion at the Mill offers myriad dance classes from many cultures.
“This space was created out of a desire to bring dance education and presentation together,” Allan explains. “This versatile new studio is like a blank canvas, where both students and teachers can practice their art, collectively weaving together culture through the education and practice of dance.
“Dance is an incredible diverse art just like music,” she adds. “What is exciting about the introduction of these spaces is that people will have more opportunity to focus and explore a particular discipline with a degree of depth that isn’t available without sufficient space to work in.” She goes on to give the example that in order to learn a dance in depth, there are more aspects than simply memorizing the movements. One must learn the history, culture and language surrounding the dance to truly understand its depth. Thus the need for a place like Motion at the Mill.
“Santa Cruz has an audience that will support a level of depth in education and training,” Allan says. “There is also the notion of cross germination. As diverse cultures become more accessible, new cultures are spawned and artistic movements are created. The more venues that there are in Santa Cruz, the more visibility there will be for dance in Santa Cruz and awareness of dance as an art form.”
Dance in Santa Cruz is expanding in other ways as well. The Tannery World Dance and Culture Center is a new space for dance performance and education. What was once an abandoned leather tannery has been transformed, almost magically, into a thriving center for the arts, containing artist’s residences, studios, galleries and the most recently added performing arts center which will serve both as a theater and as a studio offering classes in world dance for children and adults. Founded by Cat Willis, who also serves as director and who has taught dance throughout Santa Cruz for many years and made a big dent at the 418 Project and on the Santa Cruz Cultural Council, the portal’s mission certainly stands out. It hopes to “foster cultural awareness and engage the Santa Cruz and Bay Area community through traditional, cross cultural, and contemporary dance classes, educational programs, and enrichment events for children and adults, while providing a sustainable organization that facilitates social awareness, artistic growth, collaboration, and educational and performance opportunities for dance artists in the Santa Cruz and Bay Area community.” The idea is to create a one-of-a-kind professional non-profit dance organization and with a vibrant dance space, along with many supporters—local dance icon Tandy Beal among them—it seems to be happening. (Take note of Santa Cruz Outreach Program and Enrichment Dance For Youth as well as SPECTRA, which delivers a number of dance projects.)
“Dance is an art form that fully incorporates the body and the senses and is mostly temporal in nature,” Allan notes. “Those who participate in dance access a level of awareness of self that extends to an awareness of others and an awareness of one’s environment.”
That so many dance events and openings are occurring simultaneously is a testament to the growing understanding and appreciation of dance in our community. The opening of these new studios combines auspiciously with this weekend’s Ethnic Dance Festival to bring dance and culture of the world to the collective doorstep of Santa Cruz.
To learn more about The Tannery World Dance and Culture Center , or to get involved and support its cause, call 227-6770 or visit tanneryworlddance.com.
The 3rd Annual Santa Cruz Ethnic Dance Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 24 and 25. Performances on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., Laurel Park, Louden Nelson Center, Santa Cruz. Sliding scale classes on Sunday afternoon at Motion at the Mill, 131 Front St., Santa Cruz. For more information and a schedule of classes, visit santacruzdance.com.
#1 Flex Dance Company at Motion at the Mill is ready for action this fall.
#2 The Ethnic Dance Festival returns to Santa Cruz this week.