Dance Sampler: A Preview of Miami's Active Dance Life

The cultural arts have become a thriving industry in Miami. And the city owes much of its creative success to the local dance community that's helped place the region on the map as an artistic hub.

From classical, modern, African and flamenco, to mixed-ability and old-school hip hop, there's an abundance of dance in the Miami and greater South Florida area that's versatile, inherently international and most importantly, sustainable.

This weekend's Daniel Lewis Miami Dance Sampler will show audiences just that. Taking place at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, the stage will transform into a virtual catalog of local dance institutions. About a dozen groups and choreographers will display six to ten minute samplings to show who they are, and what the upcoming performance season will offer.

Organized for the past three years by Dance Now! Miami, Florida Dance Futures and the Florida Dance Education Organization, the sampler will feature Delou Africa Dance Ensemble, Brazzdance, the Brigid Baker WholeProject, Pioneer Winter, Ballet Flamenco la Rosa and members of the New World Dance Ensemble and the Miami City Ballet School Ensemble, among other notables.

"The aim of the sampler is to unify the dance community in celebration of its diversity," said Hannah Baumgarten, co-artistic director of Dance Now! Miami, who helped to resurrect the well-attended showcase in 2010 and named it for its originator Daniel Lewis, an internationally recognized local choreographer. "All of the companies are very strong...We're all here to share the stage," Baumgarten says.

One of the area's most long standing and beloved groups, Ballet Flamenco la Rosa, will present a duet titled "Alegria" (happiness) that will give a taste of the palo movement and rhythms that derive from the port town of Cádiz, Spain. The segment will feature live music, some of which is based on the traditional melodies heard from Cadiz fishermen who would sing upon returning from work.

Given Miami's support for experimental ideas, out-of-the-box has been a common descriptor for other choreographies that'll be represented at the show. Karen Peterson's company uses mixed-abilities dancers who range from formally trained to wheelchair bound.

Miami-born dancer and choreographer Pioneer Winter will present a piece that uses dancers as their own stage lights. In his "Inspektor," the dancers will have lights strapped onto their foreheads. A long time experimental artist, Winter said the idea is to make dancers a "self-sufficient" unit.

In order to see they will need to have their heads positioned in front of each other. "Lately I've been interested in taking artists and making them produce work in a way that's outside of their zone of comfort," says the spritely 25-year-old who will use dancers from Nova Southeastern University, where he currently teaches.

The original sampler started over 20 years ago. Baumgarten, a California native, danced its early years and remembers connecting with potential choreographers. Today, it remains an important venue for the local dance scene.

"We work hard to try and network and do public relations efforts to get people interested," says Ilisa Rosal, who founded Ballet Flamenco in 1985. People, she said, "are almost surprised when they come to a dance performance and love it and didn't know this thing existed before."

And while Miami-bred dancers have gone on to lead and perform in internationally renowned dance companies in New York and elsewhere, both Rosal and Baumgarten agree that a good number of talented young dancers and choreographers stay in Miami. "The tide for funding goes up and down," Baumgarten says. However, "Miami is a city of dance, and what's clear is that dancers love to be in Miami."

The Daniel Lewis Miami Dance Sampler will be held The Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Terr., Miami, Friday through Sunday, with show times at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday, 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. General admission costs $20, or $10 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at the door or online at dancenowmiami.org.

--Kai T. Hill, artburstmiami.com

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