The DANCE This finale is always a moving cultural mashup. Photo by Christopher Nelson

The DANCE This finale is always a moving cultural mashup. Photo by Christopher Nelson

Young Feet and Old Steps

‘DANCE This’ connects young performers with their peers and their cultural traditions of movement.

There is art that makes you think and art that makes you smile, but DANCE This is art that always makes me cry. For the past 20 years, Seattle Theater Group’s (STG) annual youth dance showcase, has presented a rich combination of traditional world styles and the latest new thing via a cast of young performers drawn from the Seattle community. More than 150 kids sign on for the two-week workshop and performance, bringing dances from their own backgrounds—movements that came to this country with their immigrant ancestors—then add concert dance material to the mix. “[It’s] bringing together the cultural and the contemporary,” says STG Education Director Vicky Lee.

When STG first started DANCE This, they reached out to organizations in the city that were trying to help the kids in their communities keep a foot in their heritage while they were growing up in a multicultural environment. They were working in community centers and church basements, in conventional dance studios and living rooms. And the classes were as much about social and community building as they were about nailing the specifics of a step or the details of a gesture. Bringing these diverse groups to a big downtown theater like the Paramount was a vote of confidence in their cultures—showing those students how their heritage fit into the larger world of dance was an eye-opener for them and their audience. While the project isn’t necessarily an audition for the professional world, some DANCE This students have gone on to make dance their work, following a variety of pathways to companies like the Mark Morris Dance Group and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

The <em>DANCE This</em> intensive classes get the young performers ready for the big stage. Photo by Christopher Nelson

The DANCE This intensive classes get the young performers ready for the big stage. Photo by Christopher Nelson

But for the majority of participants, the experience is like a souped-up version of summer camp, with all the intense relationships that usually entails. The first week is spent at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Phelps Center, where they take classes and rehearse in the same studios that the company uses during its season. They get a taste of ballet and contemporary styles, along with jazz, hip-hop, and musical-theater dance. They share some of their own dance skills, and go on to work with professional choreographers to craft several works for performance that highlight their own heritage.

In Seattle, we’re accustomed to the idea that many of us have roots in other cultures, but even so, it’s fascinating to see those dances onstage alongside so many others. Yes, all kinds of specific distinctions make them unique, but there are also many similarities among them that remind us that we are all kinetic individuals—that movement is part of how we connect. Young women bob up and down gently on one leg, wrapped in multiple folds of gleaming gold, in an example of Cambodian classical dance, while other young women bounce like high-speed rubber balls in South African dances from Guguletu; complex, curving floor plans in social dances from the Philippines and the Balkans; and mind-bending rhythms in Irish step dancing and Indian Kathak.

DANCE This. Photo by Christopher Nelson

DANCE This. Photo by Christopher Nelson

As the program has grown, STG has used the final performance—this year, Friday, July 13 at the Paramount—to recognize the role of dance in Seattle, folding in professionals who have appeared during their regular season and special homecoming guests. Tap master Savion Glover and members of his ensemble have taught and performed as part of the program. Members of the Joffrey Ballet appeared in honor of their founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, who started their dance training in Seattle. Artists from Ailey and the musical-theater world have been featured as well. But the big thrill is always the kids and their incredible energy.

This year’s 20th-anniversary program boasts a wonderful lineup, including local young dancers from the Apna Bhangra Crew, Bailadores de Bronce, Kalahi Dance Company, Northwest Tap Connection, Spectrum Dance Theater, and Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble. DANCE This alumni Aaron Roux (now with Mark Morris Dance Group), Deepa Liegel (Jose Limon Dance Company), and Michael O’Neal Jr (Opposing Forces) will be there as well, alongside artists from the Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn and Dorrance Dance. The finale will be choreographed by Kirsten Barron Kinney, and that’s where the big emotional moment comes, as we watch the student performers trade steps with each other. Young women in the intricate costumes of Chinese classical dance attack a time step with glee while the tap dancers are fist-pumping like they were born to Bhangra and everyone clasps hands behind their backs in the proud stance of Mexican folk dance.

I’ll be there, with my handkerchief ready.


Saturday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m. | Paramount Theatre| $18 |

DANCE This. Photo by Christopher Nelson

DANCE This. Photo by Christopher Nelson

DANCE This. Photo by Christopher Nelson

DANCE This. Photo by Christopher Nelson

More in Arts & Culture

Sloucher displaying surprisingly decent posture. Photo by Eleanor Petry
Sloucher Is Not Posturing

The Seattle band doesn’t shy away from embracing ’90s guitar rock on ‘Be True.’

Rhino riggers protest outside of the Jay-Z and Beyonce show outside of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field on Oct. 4, 2018. Photo courtesy of IATSE
The Backstage Blues: Riggers Complain of Unfair Labor Practices

Theatrical stage employees come for the music and stay for the thrill. But at what price?

Tim Blake Nelson plays the titular Buster Scruggs. Photo courtesy Netflix
‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Is a Wagon Train of Dark Mischief

The Coen brothers’ new anthology seves as a glorious ode to Westerns’ dusty death.

City Arts Ceases Publication

The free local culture magazine shuts down operations after 12 years.

Greta Klein (center right) brings the soft indie pop Frankie Cosmos to The Neptune. Photo by Angel Ceballos
The Soft Comfort of Frankie Cosmos

Sub Pop’s tenderest band brings its indie pop to The Neptune.

French dance company Compagnie Käfig brings the lights of ‘Pixel’ to Meany Center. Photo by Laurent Philippe
Pick List: Compagnie Käfig, Brooklyn Rider, Pete Souza

The week’s best entertainment offerings.

At times, the actors in Outlaw King are hard to tell apart under the mud, furs, 
and filthy mullets. Courtesy Netflix
Coming for the Throne

‘Outlaw King,’ the Chris Pine-led 14th century epic about the First War of Scottish Independence, signals Netflix’s attempt to conquer the Oscars.

Jonah Ray (yellow) joins Crow, Servo, and original host Joel Hodgson on the ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ live tour. Photo courtesy MST3K
The Timeless Formula of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ Goes Live

New host Jonah Ray discusses tour, honorable riffs, and nerd fan acceptance

Most Read