If you're seriously into dance, New York City is the only place to be. Or so the argument used to go. But the Bay Area has long been known as the biggest dance epicenter west of the Mississippi, and now that the 70-year-old-plus Dance Magazine has taken the audacious step of moving shop from New York to Oakland, local dance lovers are earnestly debating whether we're poised to usurp the tyrannical Big Apple. If you're looking to support that hopeful case, look no further than National Dance Week, which officially kicks off in Oakland this Friday. That the Bay Area lists enough first-rate dance companies and studios to support this 10-day inundation of diverse dance programs makes the event's implicit challenge to New York seem more than just foolish defiance.
Only the opening event at Oakland's Alice Arts Center, featuring African forms of dance performed by companies including Fua Dia Congo, Newstyle Motherlode, and Savage Jazz Dance Company, costs anything -- a mere $15. The juiciest part of the celebration, nine days of Open Dance Studios stretching from Palo Alto to San Anselmo and teaching everything from ballroom to belly dance, is free.
For those not interested in taking a class, the week should serve as a tantalizing preview for the coming year in Bay Area dance: Smuin Ballets/SF, Axis Dance Company, Joe Goode Performance Group, the Kendra Kimbrough Dance Ensemble, Deborah Slater Dance Theater, and others hold open rehearsals of works in progress. And from 6 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, Theater Artaud brings together Dandelion Dancetheater, Erica Essner Performance Co-op, Lizz Roman, and Scott Wells to give glimpses of their upcoming works and answer questions.
The celebration closes with Anna Halprin, the woman who, nearly 50 years back, put San Francisco on the postmodern dance map with her improvisational performances, earning herself deitylike status locally. Now in her 80s, Halprin leads her annual Planetary Dance ritual, open to all ages, in Mount Tamalpais State Park's Santos Meadows in Mill Valley on Sunday, April 30, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information on National Dance Week events (there are as many as 20 each day), visit www.voiceofdance.com. Or call 835-3100.