National Dance Day moves to the Kennedy Center


Local tappers the Manzari Brothers — John, left, and Leo — will perform in the Grand Foyer as part of National Dance Day. (Margot Schulman/courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

When Nigel Lythgoe hatched the idea for National Dance Day in 2010, the co-creator and judge of the television show “So You Think You Can Dance” was missing only one thing: an actual strategy to get people dancing.

“The only thing that we had planned really was to go on national television, on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and suggest the country organize themselves,” Lythgoe said by phone from Los Angeles.

Leave it to local force of nature, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), to handle logistics. She immediately latched onto the idea, both because it seemed like a fun way to promote fitness and because it involved a beloved pastime.

“I have to confess that I fancy myself a dancer,” Norton said. “Not one of those dancers that you pay to go see, but you start a tune and I’ll get up and I’ll dance.”

So in 2010, Norton proposed a resolution to Congress to make National Dance Day an official, recognized event. It would be the last Saturday of July, she decided, and she planned a celebration on the Mall to kick it off, which Lythgoe attended.

“Each year it has caught on more and more,” Norton said. “Nigel tends to feature the one here and the one in L.A., where we have gone to great lengths to make a big deal about it.”

Lythgoe will be in Los Angeles this year, but the Washington event will be the largest to date, and the celebration is moving to the Kennedy Center. Although the affair promises to showcase some masters, the whole point of National Dance Day is to inspire amateurs. On Saturday, visitors will get the chance to learn hip-hop moves, see Bollywood numbers and salsa under the stars. Hand dance company Smooth & EZ will perform and Lythgoe’s Dizzy Feet Foundation will offer tutorials.

“The majority of the day will be a mix of performance and dance instruction that will really be interactive, so the audience is going to be encouraged to be on their feet,” said Meg Booth, the Kennedy Center’s director of dance programming. “Of course, if you want to sit down, you can do that, too.”

Sitting — and watching in awe — will probably be the preferred activity from 6 to 7 p.m., when hip-hop group Culture Shock takes the Millennium Stage after local favorites the tapping Manzari Brothers. The duo has participated in National Dance Day since Norton recruited them for the inaugural event.

“They’re amazing kids,” Norton said of the 18- and 20-year-old brothers. “They combine the notion that you can have fun and get an education, too.”

That sounds right in line with Lythgoe’s vision for National Dance Day.

“The whole concept is to have fun, to bring people to dance, to start knocking down the barriers that we build,” Lythgoe said. “You know, you put any piece of music on and a baby starts dancing, just quite naturally. And somehow we lose that as we get older. We start to feel embarrassed about ourselves and embarrassed about our bodies.”

Thanks to Lythgoe’s efforts to bring dance to a broader audience, that may be changing. National Dance Day is catching on. This year, there will be performances, tutorials and flash mobs in Austin, Tex., Vail, Colo., Montgomery, Ala., and Rockford, Ill., among many other locations.

Lythgoe finds that heartening, and he does what he can to stoke the fire, including encouraging healthy competition. After hearing about the big festivities at the Kennedy Center, he approached the director of the dance program at the Music Center in Los Angeles.

“I said, ‘You know what Washington is doing, don’t you?’ And it was like there was a slight embarrassment,” Lythgoe said. “If I can get that competition going, I’ll be really happy.”

National Dance Day

Saturday from 1 to 11:30 p.m. Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.
www.kennedy-center.org
. Free.

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
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