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Breaking Down Barriers

ae firedance1Sixth annual National Dance Week Santa Cruz challenges preconceived notions of what dance can be

What do the post office, cafés, intersections and an abandoned Wienerschnitzel have in common? They will all—believe it or not—be transformed into performance sites in honor of National Dance Week Santa Cruz 2013 (NDWSC).

The sixth annual county-wide event will take place April 18-26, and feature numerous performances in addition to more than 100 free dance classes—from ballet to samba to hip-hop to African—open to the public. Created to recognize and grow the local dance community, NDWSC brings creative movement directly to the people, with performances in the street, in local dance studios, in community centers and in delightfully unexpected venues (in 2010, three dancers from The Aerial Collective twirled while dangling from the roof of Lulu Carpenter’s in downtown.)

The fun kicks off on April 18 with “Dancing in the Streets,” a three-hour extravaganza to be held on Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street, during which hundreds of dancers from Motion Pacific, Marsea Marquis: Dance of Brazil, Cabrillo College, Te Hau Nui and the Samba Stilt Circus (to name a few) will showcase their talents on three stages.ae crosswalkAs part of the “Dance in Unlikely Places” segment of National Dance Week Santa Cruz 2012, local dancers gave an impromptu performance while crossing a street in downtown.

“This event was created to inspire our community to dance, to witness dance, [to] strip away the boundaries of accessibility, [and] make it available to everyone,” says Abra Allan, director and founder of Motion Pacific and producer of NDWSC for the past six years. “If we are successful in that, we feel that we have done our job.”

While “Dancing in the Streets” invites the non-dance community to participate as the audience, the second facet of NDWSC, “Open Classes,” encourages everyone—experienced or not—to try out dance first-hand. Classes are tailored to all skill levels, from beginner to advanced, and take place in venues around town.

The third segment of NDWSC, “Dance in Unlikely Places,” pushes dance off the stage and into the urban landscape, with pop-up performances—some choreographed, some made up on the spot—on rooftops, in bookshops, restaurants, and even some government buildings.

“I think it is incredibly valuable to witness dance in as diverse of environments as possible,” says Allan. “It lends itself so beautifully to Dance Week’s goal of making dance more accessible to everyone.”

ae firedance2By stepping outside the traditional stage setting and in some cases moving outdoors, “Dance in Unlikely Places” erases the barrier between performer and audience. At each site, unsuspecting passersby are confronted with a performance art piece unfolding before their eyes. 

“The permeability between performer and viewer and the altered form of discourse with a place [are all part of] the magic of site-work,” says past participant Sarah Day. “It is an exposed activity [with] no protection of the ‘fourth wall,’ as you might have in a theater. The only barrier sometimes is the energy you as a performer can delineate.”

By breaking down the boundary that separates the performer and the viewer, “Dance in Unlikely Places” challenges the traditional definition of an audience.

“For me, that is what’s exciting about site-specific work—it’s not demanding that an audience go into ‘audience mode,’” says Cynthia Strauss, a performance artist who will be presenting a piece from last year’s Fringe Festival on the steps of the post office. “It allows for a different way to witness people in common spaces, opening up their sense of wonder and their ability to be in the moment. Perhaps we are audiences in our pedestrian life more often than we think we are.”

Strauss may have claimed the post office, but Dixie FunLee Mills, resident choreographer at The 418 Project, has her eyes set on the abandoned Wienerschnitzel on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz. There, she plans to present segments of “Falling Up!” her most recent performance art piece, which debuted March 29 at The 418. “I’m hoping to tickle people’s artistic selves,” says Mills. “I mean, who would have thought? A dance piece at an abandoned fast-food parking lot!”

And therein lies the beauty of NDWSC: a week full of events that deconstruct our preconceived notions of dance—from setting to style to the role of the audience.

 “We’ve gotten away with some really amazing things, and never really [been] asked to move on,” Strauss says with a laugh. “I feel as long as your intention isn’t to offend or adversely call attention to the space of those around you, it is really amazing what people will allow you to do.” 


National Dance Week Santa Cruz runs April 18-26. A full schedule of events will be available in the April 18 issue of Good Times. For more information, visit santacruzdance.com.  Photos: Hana Campbell

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