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Everybody dance now!

Dance for World Community celebrates all types of movement

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Everybody dance now!
Members of OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center perform during the Dance for World Community event. Photo: Celina Colby

On Saturday, June 9, Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre concluded its 10th annual  “Dance for World Community” festival week. The festival celebrates not only the spectrum of styles of dance available here in Massachusetts, but the impact of dance beyond entertainment.

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“Ten years ago it was very hard to convince anyone that dance was related to climate change, for example,” says Jose Mateo, founder of the festival. “We’re trying to take dance beyond its primary cultural role as performance for pleasure.” The festival showcased over 90 performances on five stages, featuring everything from jazz and flamenco to West African styles and Benkadi drum and dance.

The OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center, a nonprofit organization rooted in African influences, featured performances from children as young as 8, as well as teens and adults. Each group performed with unmatched vibrancy and enthusiasm.

The festival space in Harvard Square also showcased Advocacy Way, a strip of booths offering information on advocacy groups, food vendors, children’s activities and a post-festival dance party with DJ Sammy Smoove.

Mateo recently made the significant decision to discontinue ballet performances by his company in favor of a greater focus on the Dance for World Community mission. “I’m one of the few choreographers who’s been able to produce new work every year, and I think it’s time to invest those resources in something broader,” says Mateo. With his dance company as well as the festival, Mateo’s mission has always been to bring dance opportunities to a diverse group of people who are not always accepted, particularly in ballet.

He hopes to grow the Dance for World Community mission with year-round programming and outreach. He’s also working on ways to incorporate nontraditional dance into next year’s festival. He says, “There’s a lot of dance that’s more spontaneous, that’s not deliberately organized. We’d love to showcase more of that in the festival.”

The company’s annual presentations of “The Nutcracker” will still be hosted at the Cutler Majestic Theatre and the Strand Theatre. And the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre will continue providing dance instruction for children, teens and adults at both its Cambridge campus and its new Dorchester studio. Mateo’s instruction puts heavy emphasis on inclusion for all backgrounds, body types and styles.

“As in most classist societies, there’s a real hierarchy as to who’s important in dance,” says Mateo. “What we want to emphasize is that we’re living in a multicultural society. We have to share cultural resources.”

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