DanceFest 2011 takes over Tompkins Square Park

The place to be last Saturday for any New Yorker with even a smidgen of rhythm was Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan’s Alphabet City. With 159 dance troupes, 10,000 dancers and probably an equal number of spectators, the 5th Annual DanceFest was an exuberant way to celebrate the end of the world, purported to happen later that evening—or at least to spend a free and fun afternoon.

The sheer diversity of dance forms was breathtaking. Familiar ones like zydeco, reggae, ballroom and jazz competed with the more esoteric: biodanza, caporales, Brazilian zouk. In four hours on three stages, one could watch 30 different groups. Jaded by the sight of hip hoppers, Korean drummers or belly dancers? Then move on to roller disco performed by a troupe of seeming septuagenarians or Indian bhangra with its endless swirls of color. Belly dancers too numerous to count strolled the grounds, happy to shimmy at the mere hint of a camera. Equally entertaining were the impromptu spectacles, people who felt the beat and simply had to do their own original dances.

Tompkins was actually the site of a post-parade party. The parade itself is an annual event organized by a nonprofit that claims that it is “the world’s only parade to exclusively celebrate and showcase the diversity of dance.” That might be a bit of hyperbole but certainly the group succeeds admirably in its aim of “offer[ing] a public stage to and advance knowledge of a near-limitless range of human dance styles.”

Being in Tompkins Square Park a few hours ahead of the supposed apocalypse was fitting for another reason. No other park in New York has the colorful history that Tompkins does. This is the site of numerous riots fueled by dissatisfaction with the status quo. The immigrants protesting food shortages in the 1800’s, the Communists agitating for a revolution and the Vietnam War protestors were all seeking to end the world as they found it. Who’s to say that ordinary people dancing together can’t find rapture here on earth? On to next year’s Dance Parade and party!

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