Ten Days of Dance

Bay Area Dance Week expands to epic proportions.

Sarah Crowell is the recipient of this year's Dancers' Choice Award.

Get your plié and shimmy-shake going, because the fifteenth-annual Bay Area Dance Week opens with the massive, participatory One Dance at noon on Friday, April 26, in San Francisco’s Union Square Park. After that, the ten-day danceathon pirouettes throughout the entire Bay Area, from Sebastopol to San Jose, with local dance companies and studios flinging open their doors and inviting everyone — and they mean every body — to join the movement. Until Bay Area Dance Week comes to an end on May 5, the East Bay is one kinetic, communal paradise.

Want to watch the Axis Dance Company do their stuff from ten feet away at Oakland’s Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts (1428 Alice St.) on Monday, April 29? Curvaceous and courageous and headed to The Beat (2560 9th St., Berkeley) for a day of all-sizes dancing on Tuesday, April 30? This is your chance to explore more than six hundred free events — classes, performances, open rehearsals, lectures, and demonstrations — in one of the largest and most active dance communities in the country.

Dance Week organizer Dancers Group, based in San Francisco, serves local artists and audiences by hosting the extravaganza, which this year will be larger than ever. The event invites dance-lovers of all ages to experience the incredibly wide range of dance styles rooted in the Bay Area, from jazz and hip-hop to aerial dance and contact improvisation. Even if you only observe (Aw, come on!), there’ll be no denying the staggering genius of human bodies in motion and in concert.

Tying it all together is the Dancers’ Choice Award, given each year to one individual or organization whose work exemplifies what Bay Area Dance Week represents: a participatory coming-together that transcends racial, gender, generational, social, class, and ethnic divisions. The 2013 recipient is Sarah Crowell, artistic director of Oakland’s Destiny Arts Center. Having held a number of titles during her 23 years at Destiny Arts, Crowell is best-known and widely heralded for her work with teens.

“I’ve created a way of combining social justice, dance, empowerment and deep self-love,” she said. “It’s become a rite of passage and a community ritual for teenagers.” Each year, her Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company addresses social issues through a mesh of multiple dance genres. Bullying, gun violence, child sex abuse — few subjects are off-limits.

Decades of collaborative choreography have taught Crowell that a community’s “pushed down, angry” energy can be dissipated through dance. Her greatest joy, she said, is seeing students “blossom into who they really are.”

The grand lady of inclusive dance, Anna Halprin, who helped pioneer postmodern dance in the 1950s, linchpins the Dance Week marathon with Planetary Dance, first at Zellerbach Playhouse (Dana St. and Bancroft Way, Berkeley) on Friday, April 26, and at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens (750 Folsom St.) on closing day, Sunday, May 5.

All events are free. See BayAreaDance.org for complete schedule.