National Dance Week is an annual event started in Pittsburgh, Penn. in 1981 to increase public awareness and appreciation of various forms of dance. For the past five years, local dance groups Elite Revolution Cloggers and iDance Ministry have participated in a celebration of dance event in Charlottesville to mark the occasion. This year, the event is still happening—virtually, of course.
“Due to COVID-19, we will do a virtual stream of the program,” said Maria Daniel, founder and artistic director of iDance Ministry. “The program typically draws a crowd and we wanted to keep everyone safe … this year we will receive two mayoral proclamations for our efforts concerning this event.”
The first ever virtual dance event will feature a variety of dance styles such as West-coast swing, lyrical jazz, hip hop, stepping, acro dance, Broadway jazz, clogging, breaking, liturgical dance, tap, Bollywood, Graham-based dance and more. In addition to the two groups from Greene, other local performers will include the Wilson School of Dance, Charlottesville Swing Dance Society, Chihamba, UVA’s K-Edge Dance Crew and DMR Adventures.
“iDance Ministry will showcase diversity and technique through a hard-hitting hip hop dance, a contemporary dance and a Graham-based liturgical dance,” Daniel said. “This will be the biggest and most diverse program we have had to date; we have new dance companies, new dance styles and a few international professional dance companies that will be participating virtually this year.”
Daniel helped to create the local event in 2016 in order to educate the community about various styles of dance, unite community members in diversity and highlight local artists. This year, she’s helping coordinate the live performances for the streamed event as well as reaching out to local groups who have not been able to meet to invite them to submit videos of pre-COVID performances.
“Our video was filmed in June 2019 at the society’s monthly dance,” said Charlottesville Swing Dance Society Board Vice President Kristin Wenger. “All of us are looking forward to the time when it is safe to dance together again.”
The West-coast swing dance group was founded in 1992 and normally holds weekly “Swing Swaps” and monthly dance events. They have not held any in-person events in more than a year.
“Unlike many other forms of dance, partner dancing can only be done by touching another person,” Wenger said. “Even while masked, the exertion and close proximity to others has made partner dancing unsafe during the pandemic. Swing, salsa, tango, ballroom—regardless of the style, all over the world partner dancing basically disappeared overnight. For those of us who love it, it has been heartbreaking—the joy of connecting through music with another person, moving together as one, is euphoric. For those who depend on it for their livelihood (instructors, studio owners, event directors), it has been financially catastrophic.”
West-coast swing enthusiasts can find more information at cvilleswingdance.com or on Facebook.
Adding a touch of classic with ballet, tap and jazz is the Wilson School of Dance. Located in Albemarle County, the school has been reopened since late summer with mandatory face masks, social distancing and health checks for all dancers.
“The COVID shutdown has been very hard on dancers; we are used to being physically active, but … dance classes also involve a social and emotional element that elevates our senses into a feeling of wellbeing and purpose,” said Director Juanita Wilson. “It’s really nice that the National Dance Week activities are being held. Even virtually, it allows the dancers’ work to be seen and motivated them as they rehearsed to get a new piece ready to be filmed.”
Wilson said she is grateful to the event organizers and hopeful that the virtual format will allow an even broader audience to enjoy this year’s show.
“There are so many parents that have told me stories about how their children were getting depressed and discouraged,” said Wilson of the past year. “Now those same kids are feeling energized … Everyone is showing so much support, care, courage and adaptability. Parents are very verbal about their appreciation for what we are giving to the dancers, which helps me feel like there is meaning and purpose with dance classes.”
Wilson’s students and their parents certainly felt the same way.
“Being able to get out and move along with interacting with some of my closest friends at dance (class) has meant the world to me,” said Lexie Divers. “It has been keeping me healthy physically and mentally.”
The event, which is co-sponsored by NBC29, will be livestreamed via iDance Ministry’s YouTube channel on Friday, April 16 from 6-7:30 p.m. A preview is available at https://youtu.be/Jn-v0DRPL8M. For more information, contact Daniel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.