Every week, hundreds of people throughout Santa Cruz County participate in world dance classes—from traditional African forms to Cuban Salsa.
However, says Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center (TWDCC) Executive and Artistic Director Micha Scott, many students do not realize just how contemporary their instructors are.
“Most of these dance teachers from Santa Cruz—the public knows them as traditional artists,” Scott says. “I don’t think there’s a comprehension that they are truly contemporary dancers as well.”
Recently, the Tannery hosted the first segment of the 2022 World Dance Festival at its headquarters in Santa Cruz. The free festival included performances by a number of local and regional dance groups, as well as artisans and other vendors selling crafts, wares and food.
On Nov. 19, a second segment of the festival will be held at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theater, also highlighting world dancers, but this time with a contemporary spin. The Deep Roots Dance Fest: A Reimagining of Dance from the African Diaspora will feature dance and musical groups performing works from Brazil, the Congo, Cuba and Haiti.
Scott says the idea for the performance came after she saw a Tannery artist performing a contemporary routine using his traditional world dance background.
“It really struck me,” she says. “I had never experienced or seen that before. I started meeting choreographers and discovering they are very modern, contemporary artists. I thought, this is the time to give them a platform for them to show their works.”
TWDCC received a grant from the City of Santa Cruz after they took over the World Arts Festival, formerly known as the Cultural Arts Festival. This, along with another grant from the California Arts Council, allowed the organization to reimagine and expand it into a two-part event.
“As dancers, artists in general, we’re always looking to progress the art form, take those traditions and flip them, spin them and turn them on their head,” Scott says. “There are so many incredible creative artists in Santa Cruz and we want to highlight them. Let everyone know that they’re here.”
While most of the groups performing on Nov. 19 will be professionals, the event will also include a group of dancers from TWDCC’s youth programs.
“We’ve opened this up to all Black and brown youth dancers in Santa Cruz,” Scott says, “all of them could participate in the residency for free. “It can be very hard and isolating being an ‘other’ in their community. I know a lot of dancers who feel ostracized, lonely and separated. We wanted to invite them into something that was for them.”
Scott says that events like the World Dance Festival are a chance for performers of color to be elevated—something that is often missing in Santa Cruz County.
“It is so important for the community to bear witness to these artists,” she says. “There have been quite a few very divisive racial topics, especially within the Black community in Santa Cruz, certainly over the past few years. This is a way for Black and brown artists to say, ‘we are here, and we have something valuable to say.’”
The Deep Roots Fest will feature sponsored artists in the Diaspora Performance Project, a project launched in 2018 that aims to support local artists of the African Diaspora, including providing work opportunities. Artists include Vivien Bassouamina, Arnaud Loubayi, Ramon Ramos Alayo and Shawn Merriman-Roberts. Guest Artist in Residence Gervais Tomadiatunga and local icon Dandha Da Hora will also take the stage.
Prior to the performance, there will be musicians, artisans and more set up in the lobby of the Crocker Theater. Following the show will be an Artists Talk, where the artists will discuss their backgrounds and processes, and the audience can ask questions.
“I want to create an immersive experience,” Scott says. “My goal is that it’s not a typical thing where you show up, you wait in the lobby until they open their doors, go in and sit down and wait for the show to start.”
Scott says they hope to make the performance an annual part of the festival.
“And the great thing is, it doesn’t have to be specific to the African diaspora—it can change every year, focusing on another region of the world. This can go far and wide.”
The Deep Roots Dance Fest happens Nov. 19 at 7pm at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theater, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. $20/$30. cabrillovapa.universitytickets.com.