DC Dance Fest kicks off Friday

Hip-hop is Zachary Lattimore’s passion. He loves how dancing allows him to forget about whatever is going on in his life and let his emotions take over.

“When you dance you can express your feelings,” he said. His love for dance has led him to perform around the world – from San Diego to Switzerland – and with artists as well known as Russell Simmons. And he is only 13 years old.

Lattimore and others from Culture Shock, the dance company that to which he belongs, will be joining 35 to 40 other artists to share their passions and promote the D.C. dance community in the first annual D.C. Dance Festival this weekend. The festival, sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, will take place Oct. 1-3 and will feature 21 different performances and interactive workshops. The workshops, which are all free of charge and open to the entire community, will be held at various locations throughout the city.

Performing groups were chosen based on videotaped auditions that were submitted to the Commission last January. A panel of dance experts reviewed tapes and selected about half of the 70 groups who auditioned to appear at the festival.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities has held festivals to exhibit local film and music talent in the past; however, this year marks the first that the dance community has been given the opportunity to showcase itself in this type of forum. Workshops for beginners will be held in hip-hop, tango, tapping, Scottish ballroom dancing, hand-dancing, bhangra and Turkish folk dancing, as well as dances originating from West Africa, South Africa, Italy, Turkish, Romania, Vietnam and Cuba, just to name a few.

The representation of many diverse dance styles was one of the Commission’s main goals in organizing the festival, according to Mary Eckstein, folk and traditional arts consultant for the arts commission. “We thought that it was time to highlight the diversity in the dance community in D.C.,” she said.

Many workshop leaders, like South African dancer Lesole Maine, are looking forward to sharing the cultural significance of their dances with the community. Maine said he plans to teach participants in his workshop not only about the dances from South Africa but about the nation’s cultural diversity as well. His workshop, Lesole’s Dance Project, will take place at noon on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3225 8th Street N.E.

Akua Kouyate of the dance group Memory of African Culture said she is glad the festival will feature such a diverse array of dances.

“It’s truly an international community,” she said. “And to have access to the communities of the world … college students should jump at the opportunity.”

According to Eileen Torres, a local salsa dancer, instructor, promoter and historian, there are many other reasons why college students should consider attending the festival.

“When you can dance it opens up a whole new world,” she said, explaining that, in addition to dance being a fun and healthful activity, “Women gravitate toward men who dance.”

“Don’t hesitate to give it a try,” Torres added. “You’ll find that it’s a lot easier than you thought it was. It can just change your life dramatically.” She will be teaching a beginners salsa workshop at the Latin American Youth Center at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2.

As for thirteen-year-old Zachary Lattimore, he thinks that everyone will be able to take something away from the experience if they just give dancing a chance. “You have to experience it for yourself,” he said. “You have to try it.”

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