Saturday June 29, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- "I don’t care if you start on the right foot or the left, it’s what you do with it," said Donlin Foreman, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, delivering his own invitation to everyone to come to the Southern Vermont Dance Festival.

A new offering, the festival is coming July 18-21 to downtown Brattleboro, and features a wide range of dance classes, workshops, performances and lectures, as well as live music, performances and other activities.

Festival organizers, presenters, dancers and supporters gathered Thursday afternoon at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden to discuss festival offerings, showcase a few dance performances and generally spread the word about the festival which offers something for everyone, from the serious dancer to the rank beginner with two left feet.

That prompted Foreman’s comment about right feet and left feet, one of many passionate appeals encouraging all people to shrug off whatever makes them feel uncomfortable about dance and simply get moving.

"I like to think that dancing is for every single person on this planet," said Billbob Brown, dancer, associate professor of dance at UMass Amherst and director of Chaos Theory Dance. "If everybody on this planet danced, we’d probably have less war and less conflict."

Some two dozen workshops will be offered each day of the four-day festival in all kinds of styles from ballet to belly, jazz to salsa, hip-hop to modern and more, including some offerings you won’t encounter often. Yabei Chen will be teaching Chinese Umbrella dancing, and gave a beautiful demonstration of it during Thursday’s press conference.

There are also formal and informal performances and site-specific presentations each day of the festival.

All festival offerings are held in an around downtown Brattleboro, from the Common to the Marlboro Graduate School to the Cotton Mill and everywhere in between. And that’s a key part of the festival.

From the get-go, festival organizers have worked in partnership with the Brattleboro business community and tried to make it as good a thing for the local economy as it is for dancers.

Speaking passionately, Festival Artistic Executive Director Brenda Siegel told of coming back as a young adult to her hometown of Brattleboro because this is where she wanted to make her life and pursue her career in dance and teaching. She lost everything in Tropical Storm Irene, but still chose to remain. Her love and concern for her hometown are at the heart of her interest in the festival.

"It’s important to show off this beautiful place where we live," said Siegel.

Throughout the festival, time is built in between workshop sessions for people to pause and spend a little time shopping in and enjoying downtown Brattleboro. The event also coincides with Sidewalk Sales, which should make bargain-hunting another prime activity of the weekend.

"Brenda expressed her concern and interest in the health of downtown Brattleboro. ... It is our organization’s role to support endeavors like this," said Donna Simons, president of Building a Better Brattleboro and co-owner of A Candle in the Night. "Brattleboro is known as an arts community. ... I think that the art if dance has been missing."

Until now.

Simons also held up Siegel and other dancers in the area as prime examples of a sadly all-too-endangered species in Vermont -- young people who have chosen to stay.

Those ranks may someday include Nevada McOwen, a 15-year-old student at Vermont Academy who is interning with the festival.

She said it has taught her a lot.

"It really takes passionate and dedicated people to bring something like this life," she said.

It also takes you.

Early bird ticket pricing continues for a limited time, and the festival is still seeking volunteers and sponsors.

"If people will stand behind us in the first couple of years then we can become self-sustaining, and then we can do an incredible amount of good for the town," Siegel said.

For more information on the festival, on Early Bird tickets, volunteering and sponsorship,. visit www.southernvermontdancefestival.com.