Steps to a successful dancing festival

Florida’s premier dance festival returns to USF this week, presenting students with the chance to watch or participate in a 10-day celebration of movement.

The University will hold the Florida Dance Festival – which runs classes from June 16 to June 26 – for the first time since 1997. Hip-hop, Afro-Brazilian and ballet dance are among the styles offered within this year’s repertoire.

The annual festival is organized by the Miami-based Florida Dance Association.

Florida Dance Association executive director Bill Doolin said that it has been so long since Tampa hosted the event that he attended as a performer the year before the festival’s move to Miami.

He said that the festival’s potential had “plateaued” in Miami, however, so the association decided to move to an area closer to other Florida cities.

“We felt like we needed access to dorms (and) a more centralized location because everything was spread out in Miami,” Doolin said. “So I talked to several universities and colleges around the state, and the University of South Florida was the school that was the most helpful, most positive and incredibly supportive of us coming here.”

This year’s festival will include new dance courses along with its change of venue.

New York choreographer Bill Young’s program teaches contact improvisation in partnering dance. Instructor Colleen Thomas will teach advanced modern dance classes that mix yoga and ballet movements.

Because of the classes’ advanced nature, Doolin said the workshops are best suited for intermediate and serious dancers.

However, any students inexperienced in formal technique can still attend the Florida Dance Festival’s six different performances.

Politically minded choreographer David Dorfman will stage his show “Disavowal” – about abolitionist John Brown – on June 24 at 8 p.m. in Theatre 1.

“He likes to rock the boat a little bit, and the piece deals with racism,” Doolin said. “It’s audience participatory, but it’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Jasmine Jones, a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in dance and a member of Tampa’s Jansen Project, will perform in a jazzy tap piece called “Summertime” with another company member.

“It’s very interesting when you have a piece of music and you’re trying to put tap steps to it because you have the music itself, which is percussive,” Jones said. “Yet you also have your tap steps, and you don’t want to mimic the music. So you have to do something else while still making it sound altogether.”

The piece is part of Thursday’s Florida Dances exhibition, which will also feature works from Jacksonville University students and disability dance company REVolutions Dance.

Jones said she had attended the Florida Dance Festival in Miami about 10 years ago, at a much younger age, and appreciated the dance curriculum’s eclectic variety.

“It wasn’t the traditional tap, jazz, ballet and modern,” Jones said. “It was Afro-Brazilian and there’s actual classes, and a few acting classes and improvisation in acting as well. So it was a terrific experience to see what else is offered.”

Jones said that although her summer classes would limit what she could attend this year, she was excited that her college would be the festival’s backdrop.

With the exception of Fuzion Dance Artists, who chose the Salvador Dali Museum as the venue for their Latin and African-inspired work, all classes and performances will take place on the USF campus.

The festivities conclude with the Festival Finale, which showcases every class as the students perform a collective piece choreographed by Dorfman. The show costs $6 and will be held June 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Theatre 2.

Marc Powers, director of the School of Theater and Dance at USF, said that despite the university setting, the festival
accepts dancers with ages ranging from middle school to college alumni.

“There are high school-aged (students), college-aged, sort of the full range,” Powers said. “There’s some professional and older students that are involved. They’re not just from Florida, either – people come in from other places.”

The festival also awards full-time merit scholarships for selected dance students which allow the students to attend the shows and workshops for free.

Jocelyn Perez, a junior majoring in dance, is one such festival scholarship recipient.

Perez said she was particularly eager to work with Bill Young and Colleen Thomas and take the hip-hop performance workshops.

“I’m really excited for USF,” Perez said. “I go here and I live like five minutes away, so it’s perfect.”

Doolin said that he hopes to keep Tampa as the backdrop for future Florida Dance Festivals.

“I’m really planning on trying to build this up into a really solid program again for the next few years,” he said.