Unusual Footwork

The Beach plays host to a dance festival of a different kind

For most of us, combining the words dance and Miami Beach in a sentence conjures up the same image: a self-esteem-shrinking battle with a member of the ubiquitous velvet-rope squad.

You attempt to persuade the very important door personnel that you are attractive, thin, and/or cool enough. He or she is impassive, then relents, and you gain access to a sweaty pit populated by drunkards who attempt to wow the crowd with renditions of the funky chicken and other moves as stale and unwelcome as their underarm odor. Three hours later, you depart considerably poorer, smelling like cigarettes and perspiration.

Though the throngs of Winter Music Conference devotees swarming about town may disagree, there is more to the Miami dance scene than techno-junkies swilling gin and juice in the VIP room with 50 close friends and a glow stick.

Celebrating its second anniversary, the Miami Beach Dance Festival is not your usual rabid, soul-fiend reunion. An event that showcases the many facets of modern and contemporary, it runs from March 24 through April 2 at various locations in Miami Beach. The fest includes a series of performances, discussions, films, and master classes by six dance troupes, including Miami's Momentum Dance Company, Ballet Flamenco La Rosa, and Dance Now! Ensemble, as well as Florida Dance Theatre, National Dance Company of the Bahamas, and Los Angeles's Lula Washington Dance Theatre.

Orchestrated by Momentum Dance Company's artistic director, Delma Isles, the festival kicks off March 24 at 6:00 p.m. with a performance of environmental dance titled Dance on the Beach. On the sand behind the Deauville Beach Resort at 67th Street and Collins Avenue, live drummers will accompany artists from Dance Now! and Momentum. Dance Now! directors Diego Salterini and Hannah Baumgarten, who are known for fusing different styles, will showcase a special iteration of their latest collaboration, America/America: One Nation, Many Stories. Momentum will offer a work by dancer Daniela Wancier that explores life-evolving cycles.

At this year's festival, Lula Washington is founder of the guest company, the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. "I hadn't heard much about it," she says of the fest, "but someone came to see our show here in Los Angeles last September and invited us to participate. Once I got the information, I could see it was a really wonderful festival. We're really excited."

Washington heads a group that in the past 26 years has become one of the largest and most admired African-American dance troupes in the West.

"During the time when I was starting out, I felt there were not enough choreographers expressing the African-American experience, and so that's why I started the company," Washington quips. "The work we do is Afro-centric, which means it's modern dance based on the Afro-centric point of view — things that are relevant to the African-American community, but not necessarily so."

Based in South Central L.A., the company comprises eight to fourteen lithe, graceful members. Many were groomed in Washington's inner-city dance studio, where she works with children as young as three years old in a program called "I Do Dance, Not Drugs!" Their March 31 show at the Byron Carlyle Theater will feature a diversity of Washington's choreography, augmented by the works of famous artists including Donald McKayle.

"One of the pieces that we are bringing is called Songs of the Disinherited, which is a very famous classical piece of choreography by McKayle. Then we are also going to do Thanks and Praises, which is new, and another new piece that I created called The Movement, which is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, and Rosa Parks. And we are doing Women in the Streetsto the music of Prince."

The festival will also incorporate the passionate, emotional, and colorful style of flamenco. And according to Ballet Flamenco's founder, Ilisa Rosal, if you have never seen it live, this is the performance to watch.

"Flamenco has so many influences from so many cultures that I think it speaks to everyone," beams Rosal. "It's total theater, and it has such complex joining together of all of human experience in one art form." The ten-member troupe includes seven dancers — six female, one male — two guitarists, and a singer. And though the vocals are sung entirely in Spanish, Rosal assures that you do not need to speak the language to appreciate the dance. "It's so emotional and passionate that even if you don't understand a word, it doesn't matter," says Rosal, who perfected her craft for five years in Spain. "It's so intense you don't have to understand what they're saying to understand the feeling behind it."

Ballet Flamenco is scheduled to perform two hour-long choreographed shows March 26 and April 1 at the Byron Carlyle Theater. In addition, audiences can enjoy complimentary tapas and the breathtaking sights and sounds of an evening of improvised flamenco March 29 at the Tropicana Supper Club in the Deauville Beach Resort.

"Even though flamenco has come to the theater and become much more sophisticated with choreography, [it] originated with people just sitting around at their homes and at parties, singing and dancing together and improvising," says Rosal when describing how the cabaret-style of dance differs from the traditional form. "The musicians and dancers are seated, and you take turns getting up and improvising. The dancers that are not dancing are still accompanying you with the palmas [handclapping] and the jaleos, which is screaming, öOlé'!"

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