Santa Cruz is Dancing in the Streets

by Renée Rothman

National Dance Week, Santa Cruz (NDWSC) was ushered in last night on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. I had planned on calling this posting “A Taste of Dance in Santa Cruz” but it was so much more than a taste. It was a full course dinner…with dessert.

The celebration began with the Aerial Collective repelling off the wall of Lulu Carpenter’s café. If you haven’t seen aerial dance yet, make a plan to find some. Three intrepid dancers (including Abra Allan, the producer of this NDW events) lowered themselves off the roof on wires and proceeded to traverse the wall running and flipping and generally amazing and entertaining us. Live piano music accompanied them with Debussy’s mood music creating an atmosphere of fantasy and unworldliness.

Beat Techniques

From there the audience scattered to one of three stages for non-stop dancing by local artists. I sat myself down on Locust Street and watched Beat Techniques, a young, diverse group of street dancers. They worked both improvisationally and with choreography. With a little more attention on precision, we could be seeing them on America’s Best Dance Crew one of these days.

They were followed by Made Surya performing a Balinese masked dance. As an old man, he stumbled around, then seeming to look right at you, he made a comical and slightly unnerving beeline straight at you. The children were delighted, especially when he charged and scattering them laughing and screaming.

Then came the Te Hua Nui Polynesian dance Company in their bright cotton skirts, modest blouses, and bare feet.

Te Hau Nui

By then the sun had gone behind the trees, the winds picked up, and it was COLD. But they brought their island grace and enchanted us until we forgot the temperature. Just watching the wave-like motions of hips and arms was a meditation. Tamara Nelson and Misty kept the hips swaying with their fusion bellydance performance. Tamara’s belly rolls and vibrations caused a few gasps of amazement and Misty charmed us with her hip shimmies, pops and drops.

Tango cafe

Tango Friends gave us a sampling of several tango forms and let us have a peak into the goings-on at a tango party. This was completely un-choreographed, in keeping with its historic tradition as a social dance.

By then the asphalt began to numb by sits-bones and I switched locations. I had to see Janelle and Desert Dream. They were in high form at the Cinema 9 stage performing a Turkish karsilama (danced on 9/8 and really fun) and a sword dance. Janelle’s student group dramatically dressed in red with black assiut performed with zills, and impressive feat in itself. And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a solo by the incomparable lady herself, Janelle.

Desert Dream

And speaking of incomparable ladies, Crystal Silmi’s group, Raks Araby, performed with Silmi’s idiosyncratic fusion of bellydance and street dance. Highly energetic and assertive, they combine popping and locking with Middle Eastern finger cymbals, belly rolls and shimmies with funk and hip hop. They were joined, appropriately, by Kazoo, a boogaloo and popping dancer.

I wandered from stage to stage for a while catching only moments of salsa rueda, Holi Choli, and Random with a Purpose (I was behind a tree for that and only saw the occasional arm or leg flash into view). The crowds were thick by then and I had to look over shoulders, under arms, and around trees to see anything up at the Jamba Juice stage. But it was worth it when Marsea Marquis entered with her Brazilian dancers and musicians. These girls danced with such abandon and joy! It was jaw-dropping.

And the energy, joy, and abandon was ratcheted up with Ballet Wassa Wassa’s West African drumming and dancing. How do they dance that fast? And Dandha Da Hora’s Afro-Brazilian dancers left me breathless and grinning. I could practically feel the orixa’s presence. By the time the fire dancing finale with Nocturnal Sunshine got started, the crowd was charged with the energy of Terpsichore. It felt more like Carnival with stilt-walkers dancing samba, drums pounding, and dancers overflowing the streets. With all that energy thrumming around downtown, we could have powered the whole city.

Dandha Da Hora in flight

Ah, to be a 25-year-old dancer in Santa Cruz…I confess to heart-felt pleasure in watching them—mixed with a goodly part of envy. But what a fantastic event, top to bottom from the opening aerial dancers to the concluding fire dancers. Kudos to Abra, Chip, and everyone who gave this to us.

BUT IT AIN’T OVER FOLKS. April 30-May 2, dancers are likely to show up where you least expect them. Join the NDWSC fan group on Facebook for clues. Saturday there are free classes on the street in Downtown. All week there are free classes at the local studios and on Friday dancers join with the First Friday Art Tours all around  town. Hope to see you there.

(One final note: I have included a few of my own photos but I know there were alot of real photographers down there (Sharif, Froujke, I saw you there) and I hope they will share there photos. Let us know where we can find them.)

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