2 weeks of dance at Iowa Dance Fest

BY DAN WATSON | APRIL 17, 2009 7:30 AM

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The third-annual swinging and grooving celebration known as the Iowa Dance Fest will kick off tonight at Chait Galleries Downtown.

A large golden pipe organ rested in the background as two seasoned Iowa City dancers began their rehearsal with a contact improvisation “jam” at Old Brick. When performed, the technique is referred to as a “jam” because the term properly describes the physical starting point of an often clumsy, spontaneous, and somewhat sexual dance form — the participants improvise movements like jazz musicians riffing onstage.

The rehearsal is in preparation for Iowa Dance Fest 3, which will kick off at 6 p.m. today with a social and dance-visual art exhibit at Chait Galleries Downtown, 218 E. Washington St. The festival will run through May 2 with various dance performances scattered throughout the two-week period.

“The fest is really a celebration of Iowa dance,” said festival organizer Mark McCusker. “Few people realize how thick dance culture runs in the state.”

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During the festival, seven events will be open to the public, with a wide array of Iowa dancers performing styles from the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe. The festival will conclude at Old Brick with a showcase of more than 15 dance groups, including ballet, line, folkloric, Renaissance, and hip-hop.

Other performances will be held at schools, hospitals, senior centers, libraries, museums, and art galleries for private audiences.

“We try to dance wherever and whenever we can during the festival,” organizer Nora Garda said. “It’s a busy couple of weeks, but thousands of people, whether dancing or not, are apart of the celebration.”

Garda, a chemist at the UI Pharmaceutical Service, and UI alumnus McCusker met through a dance choreographer in 2001. The duo, along with ACE-xperiment, a local nonprofit cultural organization, received around $2,000 from a city cultural development grant to organize and produce the festival. Along with the grant, numerous community and private buildings volunteered to host performances, and all groups are dancing for free.

“Just looking at the budget, it is amazing,” McCusker said. “Many dance groups and companies use the festival to market themselves. We are so fortunate that so many dancers want to perform to spread the message of dance.”

Most events require willing audience members to perform all types of dances with professionals. Many of the performances and exhibitions rely heavily on audience interaction, including Saturday’s Doodle Dance at Old Brick. The all-ages event is centers on patrons “scribbling” their interpretations of visual-dance pieces.

“We call it ‘doodling,’ because not everyone can draw, but everyone can at least doodle,” McCusker said.

While various dance forms will be performed from all across the world, Garda said, the festival is largely a community effort. Dance groups from Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Davenport, Ames, and Des Moines will all participate in the event. Because of *Iowa Dance Fest*’s popularity, performers from across the state have established the Iowa Dance Network. Members are urging McCusker and Garda to rotate the dance fest to a different part of the state every year, McCusker said.

“I think it would be a great idea to take the festival on the road,” he said. “But if that happens, we will be sure to put on our own yearly celebration in Iowa City. The community is just so culturally diverse, dance has to be a part of it.”

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