National Dance Day Draws Diverse Crowd to Kennedy Center

National Dance Day Draws Large, Diverse Crowd to Washington

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, July 27, 2013 – National Dance Day drew thousands to the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in a spirited celebration of this universal art form. Packing a spacious outdoor venue was a diverse, receptive, dance-happy crowd which couldn’t get enough of the myriad performances.

Jeannie Jones, hostess of the event and an active radio and television personality in the national capital region, gushed, “There is something about dance and music that just brings everybody together – one spirit, one mind and you feel absolutely amazing”!

Engaging an audience on its toes, Helen Hayes, Program Director of the Youth Dance Ensemble at the Joy of Motion Dance Center, emphasized, “Dance is a language. Through dance, we find our own voice”.

The event formed the east coast installment of National Dance Day hosted by the Kennedy Center, in association with Dizzy Feet Foundation and in conjunction with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents the District of Columbia. Launched in 2010 by ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ co-creator and Dizzy Feet Foundation co-president Nigel Lythgoe, this grassroots campaign encourages Americans to embrace dance as a fun and positive way to maintain good health and combat obesity. National Dance Day achieved national recognition in July 2010 when Delegate Norton, a long-time proponent of healthy lifestyles, introduced a Congressional Resolution declaring the last Saturday in July to be the country’s official National Dance Day.

Jones told us, at INDIA THIS WEEK, “I feel that dance is so important to the human spirit, most importantly because it keeps your body motivated. It keeps your mind stimulated. I notice in our country, with work, kids, video games, we are not moving and exercising as much as we used to. So, National Dance Day is another day to remind us to get up, off the couch, like First Lady Michelle Obama always encourages us to do”!

We asked Jones how the exceedingly talented Indian-American dance groups in our area can perform and participate in the National Dance Day event, to which she replied, they should contact Delegate Norton’s office. “One thing I love here in DC and the metropolitan area, is that there are so many dance centers that offer every form of dance, and so get involved”, she implored.

At the Kennedy Center, the audience was treated to performances by Doonya Bollywood Dance & Fitness, Janaki Rangarajan – classical South Indian Bharatanatyam style, Nomad Dancers – Persian, and other supremely talented artistes and groups.

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Talented artistes of Bollywood Dance & Fitness, with Jay Kansara on ‘Dhol’ (drum), performing on National Dance Day at the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Jeannie Baumann, Regional Manager of Doonya for the Washington metropolitan area, told us, “It’s such an honor to be invited to perform for National Dance Day at the Kennedy Center. All of us at Doonya are huge fans of the show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. So, to be able to perform with something that’s connected to it, was really exciting for us. We are really glad to perform two years in a row and show people about Bollywood. The crowd was great, interactive! It looked like they were having fun”!

Jeannie was joined on stage with Annie Sampson, Anita Sharma, Amruta Goraksha Yeolekar and Suhasini Yashodhar Attawar. For the performance piece, they chose ‘Ghagra’ from the film, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewami. Jeannie said, “We really like that because it’s very graceful and flowing and it’s very highly stylized. Kajal Desai, co-founder of Doonya, choreographed it”.

For the interactive piece, they selected a folk style number, ‘Govinda ala re’ (Mumbai Mirror). The Doonya dancers were joined on stage by Jay Kansara on the ‘dhol’ (Indian drum) which enhanced the charm of their performance. “That number has a great beat, so much energy”, Jeannie said. The ‘dhol’ (drum) really captivates people and, I think, engages them. It was fun to show those two different styles”.

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Janaki Rangarajan, founder and director of the Nritya Niketan school of bharatanatyam in Alexandria, performing on National Dance Day at the Kennedy Center

Janaki, founder and director of the Nritya Niketan school in Alexandria and a bharatanatyam exponent par excellence, told us, “I am performing a pure dance, bringing out the beauty of the technique. It is called a ‘Jatiswaram’. It’s a combination of musical notes and rhythmic syllables. There is no expressive piece because of the crowd. It is a big crowd. It’s not easy for them to see my face”, she said.

On stage, Janaki floored the audience, interacting with the crowd in an easy, effortless manner, laced with humor. Bharatanatyam requires a lifetime of dedication and devotion, yet Janaki presented some techniques which were grasped by the attentive viewers. And she left an indelible impression on their minds with her riveting performance. She is truly an ambassador of Indian culture!

It is noteworthy that Janaki will be performing at the Musee Guimet, a prestigious venue in Paris, France, on September 20-21. “I will be presenting a traditional Bharatanatyam repertoire”, she informed us. “I am presenting my production called ‘Samviksana’ – an exploration. I am premiering some newly choreographed items. These performances will be with a live music ensemble”.

Artistes like Janaki have put Indian dance and culture on the world map. They know no boundaries or barriers!

On stage at the Kennedy Center, Hayes said: “Dance is transformative. Dance is universal. Dance is a language. Dance connects people. Dance is spiritual. Dance is compelling. Dance is freedom. Dance is magic”, and her words lingered well after the event was over.

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A cross-section of the large, diverse crowd celebrating National Dance Day at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC
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