The “I ♥ Dance” logo seems to be popping up everywhere. Union County, for instance, has a sizable population of young people who are crazy about dancing, and casual observers will be able to share their enthusiasm this weekend as the first Dance Union festival breaks ground, March 16-18 at the Hamilton Stage of the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway.
A performance at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon will feature a mix of professional, semi-professional and student dancers, all based locally. Perhaps more importantly, the festival will put out a welcome mat inviting the public to experience the joy of movement themselves. Anyone can try a modern dance or ballet class, while curiosity seekers will have opportunities to watch the pros rehearse. These dance classes are open to all comers from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The rehearsals, which are open to Union County schools and community organizations, will take place beginning at noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Friday, followed by a reception for local politicos and supporters.
Carolyn Dorfman Dance, which has been based in Union Township since 1986, has been instrumental in organizing this event, and will be the artists featured at Friday’s rehearsals.
“I consider myself a locavore, and believe we should always be doing things locally,” says Anita Thomas, the troupe’s executive director. “We’re turning 35 this year, and so Carolyn continues to try to grow the different kinds of things that we do. This is our way of giving back for the support that people have had for us over the years.”
Describing the open rehearsals on Friday, Thomas says attendees will “get a chance to meet the dancers and talk to Carolyn, and see the inner workings of preparing for the performance that we’ll be doing that Sunday.”
Five student groups, and as many as 80 young dancers, will participate in the festival this year, but there are so many dance programs in Union County that Thomas says she hopes the event will grow.
The list of institutions sending dancers to perform this year includes Linden, Plainfield and Cranford high schools; the Union County Vo-Tech Academy of Performing Arts; plus the Alexander Hamilton Preparatory Academy and the Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy, in Elizabeth. Carolyn Dorfman Dance will also be performing, along with the aspiring pre-professional dancers of Nancy Turano’s New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble; Jay Skeete Lee’s Rahway Dance Theatre; and Dawud Jackson’s Well Performance Project, from Somerville.
Thomas says one goal of the festival is to bring professional and pre-professional dancers together, giving the students some sense of what a dance career looks like.
According to Thomas and choreographer Carolyn Dorfman, they have been trying to forge a partnership with Union County Performing Arts Center for some time. Praising the Hamilton Stage’s backstage areas and state-of-the-art studio, Dorfman says: “They have a great facility … so it will be a space where I believe you will see us more.”
“This is like a trial launch,” Thomas says, explaining that in future years the organizers would like to coordinate the festival with the celebration of National Dance Week. “If we continue with this, our hope is this will be a way to have our county recognized as the place for you to come and experience great dance.”
Pre-registration is required to attend Friday’s rehearsals. To register, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information about the $15 classes on Saturday, visit ucpac.org/events. Tickets to Sunday’s performance are $20 general admission, and $10 for seniors and students. Visit ucpac.org/events to purchase tickets to this event.