In between the busy holiday and pre-cherry blossom seasons, wonky Washington celebrates Obscure Academic Conference Season. Modern dance may be just another niche interest, but assume this much about the upcoming 2014 American College Dance Festival Association Mid-Atlantic Conference at George Mason University: No one is going to be sitting around a hotel ballroom nodding off during the plenary session.

This week, George Mason announced the lineup of conference speakers and performances that will be open to the public during the March 8-11 meeting. The list of speakers alone is cause to sit up and pay attention, and 500 college-age dancers should provide a jolt of caffeine by osmosis. Marquee names on the March 9 panel discussion include dance critic Deborah Jowitt; Broadway star Elizabeth Parkinson; Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet; and Kyle Abraham, a choreographer and 2013 MacArthur “genius” grant recipient.

“We are so excited,” said conference co-coordinator Karen Reedy, an assistant dance professor at George Mason. “We really wanted do something extra special.”

The two other public events on the schedule are the March 8 performance by Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, featuring three contemporary works; and the March 11 gala performance, featuring the best new dances presented at the conference as judged by a visiting panel of experts: choreographers Zvi Gotheiner and Sarah Skaggs, and longtime Ailey II artistic director Sylvia Waters.

In a format analogous to the turned-around-chair auditions on “The Voice,” Gotheiner, ­Skaggs and Waters will watch nearly 50 dances at four “adjudication” concerts held during the four-day conference. They will be given no program information, so they won’t know which school they are watching perform or whether a student or professor created the piece. After providing feedback to every troupe, the trio of judges will confer on the final day of the conference and decide which dances deserve to be on the evening program.

How’s that for academic conference drama?

It’s been nearly a decade since George Mason last hosted the Mid-Atlantic gathering. Reedy said the dance department held off until after the new studio spaces opened for the 2010-11 school year and then wanted to ensure that it had the time and resources to put together a performance and speaker lineup that would be worthwhile for students and Washington’s dance-going public.

“We started going through our Rolodexes,” Reedy said. “Well, we don’t have Rolodexes anymore, but we tried to get a diverse group of people who could talk about their lives in dance, and everything from Broadway to ballet. We pulled our own connections . . . and we brought together a fascinating group of artists.”

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

American College Dance Festival Association Mid-Atlantic Conference

At George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. Saturday, March 8, 8 p.m., the Joffrey Ballet presents “Body and Soul,” $25-50; Sunday, March 9, 2 p.m., panel discussion, “Imagine . . . a Life in Dance,” $5-10; and Tuesday, March 11, 8 p.m., gala performance, $5-10. For more information on the conference, visit
For tickets, go to or call 888-945-2468.