The Dancers of Santa Cruz Gather for Ethnic Dance Festival

Santa Cruz Dance presented its second annual Ethnic Dance Festival at Mission Plaza Park last weekend. The first day of the festival was a free, public dance concert. On the second day, local dance teachers offered a series of free classes at the 418 Project (and India Joze was there serving up their treats at both events).

The performers—all local—represented ethnic dance traditions from (in order of appearance): Japan, Mexico, India, Argentina, Brazil, Bali, West and North Africa, Spain, and back to Brazil. That is an extraordinary variety of dance for one afternoon. But there it is: a whole world of dance right here in Santa Cruz.

Japanese Classical Dancer from Studio Mai

Lovely, young dancers from Esperanza Del Valle Mexican Folklorico Company

John and Nancy Lingemann performing a Tango

Made Suryasa in his Old Man mask

The Feldthouse Family Band opened the afternoon their gypsy fusion music and dance. From the Gypsy traditions we also saw the suitably hot Flamenco Romántico with Marianna and Freddie Mejia and an amusing gypsy-cancan fusion from Desert Dream. From the Latin traditions we saw two fast-paced Brazilian groups: Yabas Dance Company under the direction of Dandha Da Hora and Tropicalismo directed by Marsea Marquis. In addition, we were entertained by Esperanza Del Valle’s colorful Mexican Folklorico Dance Company and a some Argentine Tangos from John and Nancy Lingemann et al.

From the Eastern world, Ohgi Umetsuzu brought graceful duets and solos in Classical Japanese dance. Made Suryasa delighted us with his Balinese old-man masked dance. Santa Cruz newcomer Revital Carroll performed a beautiful Odissi piece. African traditions were represented by another relatively new group of dynamic West African dancers, Mohamed Bongoura, Satrunin Ba, and Vivien Bassouamina. (Welcome to the community, all of you.) Representing North African bellydance we saw RaksArabi and Desert Dream.

Dancers and fans of dancers gathered at Mission Plaza, one component of the state historic park around the Santa Cruz Mission (some of it dating to 1791). The stage was located at one end of the plaza, Under Direct Sun. It faced a nice, grassy area, also Under Direct Sun. It was very hot…cook-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot. Most of the trees surrounding the park aren’t tall enough to offer a lot of shade, plus they are at a distance from the stage. Still, it got cozy under those trees.

Visitors clustered beneath patches of shade

The shady view of the stage

I camped out under a small tree—had to lay down to see the stage, but it was shaded. I made forays out to the green for a closer look, take a picture, and dash back for water. The dancers—in full and often elaborate costume—warned us that they might not make it through their performances. We were especially concerned for the barefoot dancers: I hope they had buckets of ice waiting for them backstage.

These kids had the right idea

But the dancers carried on, to our communal delight. As a friend of mine said recently, Santa Cruz may not have the very best in ethnic dance, but we more than make up for that in passion and dedication to these extraordinary expressions of the human spirit. But, in addition to that, we have some genuine expertise in ethnic dance cultures. I applaud the producers of this weekend for providing yet another opportunity for us to rub shoulders with the dancers of Santa Cruz.

Sunday I attended two of the five free, hour-long dance classes sponsored by 418 Project. Now, you know I love to watch dancing, but it doesn’t compare to getting into a studio and becoming the dancer myself.

Crystal Silmi has attempted to kill me before with her “warm-ups” but she held back for the sake of newcomers. Still, it was non-stop action from the time the drumming commenced to our zhagareets at the end. Let’s see if I can remember what we learned: Basic Egyptian, The Twisty Hip Thingy, Arabics One to Infinity, Traveling Choo Choos, Some Other Stuff including Taxeem (slow movements) and Snake Arms (always a crowd favorite). After each new step was drilled, it was included into her choreography. As our knowledge of steps accumulated so did our ability to dance the choreography. It was very gratifying and I loved every second of it.

Made Suryasa teaching Balinese dance

Student dons a mask and strikes a pose

Young and old joined in

After a lively break of meeting and greeting, we gathered again for Made Suryasa’s instruction in Balinese Mask Dance. This classical dance form requires that you stand in the most peculiar position: feet apart, knees deeply bent, torso stable, shoulders hunched up to your ears. The shoulders are perched high up, with the head tucked in to frame the masked face and to better mimic the actions of the shadow puppets upon which the dances are based. Arms and hands are contorted into sharp, angular forms as the feet slap out their steps. Given my weak joints, I elected to observe most of this class and found it most informative. Made Suryasa is a master of his art and a lovely teacher, as well.

The dance classes continued with Mohamed Bongoura teaching West African, Noga Vilozny teaching flamenco, and concluded with the Lingemann’s tango lessons. I would love to have stayed for them all. Stepping into a dance studio is like coming home for me. It doesn’t even matter if it’s an old room on a third-floor walk-up, the corner of a stage, or a modern dance studio with clean wooden floors and perfect mirrors. As long as dance has happened there, the space becomes charged with the energy dancers.

(P.S.: I tried to get pictures of producers Abra, Hana, and Chip but they were moving so fast my camera couldn’t pick them up. Nonetheless, thank you and your team for bringing us the Santa Cruz Ethnic Dance Festival.)

I hope you will all consider attending the third annual ethnic dance festival in 2011 and to take classes with our local ethnic dancers and musicians.

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2 responses to “The Dancers of Santa Cruz Gather for Ethnic Dance Festival

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