Arts Desk

Dance DC Festival Showcases Hip-Hop Past and Present

There’s something funny about the Dance DC Festival, which starts now with some b-boys grooving down on Woodrow Wilson Plaza till 1:30 p.m. The festival, now in its eighth year, has always been about highlighting the variety of dance out there, with a particular focus on folk dance. And it’s very cool that this year, festival organizers at the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities decided to build the event around hip-hop, viewing it as an indigenous American folk dance. Why not, right? After all, it began in the streets as an expression of a particular urban experience, with b-boys and other dancers informally teaching each other.

But what’s weird is that dance, in this year’s festival, is on the verge of being overshadowed by other art forms. Tonight’s big kickoff event, “Simply Marvin: Live at the Sugar Shack,” held at the Warner Theatre, is a tribute to soul musician Marvin Gaye and his contributions to hip-hop music, and features two serious out-of-town musicians, as well as a handful of local dance groups. On Saturday, the festival—which goes all weekend, and is free to the public—moves to the Atlas Performing Arts Center for a series of free workshops, including a tutorial on DJing, and ends that night with a screening of the seminal movie Style Wars, which documents the rise of hip-hop culture in New York City.

It’s particularly odd given the fact that the much acclaimed and very popular Hip Hop Theater Festival—which strives to highlight the variety of disciplines that exist under the broad banner of hip hop—wrapped up last weekend. This city’s got a pretty strong hip-hop dance scene, so why include all the other stuff in what’s supposed to be a D.C.-specific festival?

But never mind. Look closely and there’s several ways to see serious dancing this weekend. The most interesting-sounding one is "Downtown Battleground," which takes place Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on F Street NW between 7th and 9th streets. There’s music by Doug E. Fresh, EU, and Mambo Sauce, and dancing from Urban Artistry, Future Shock, and Da Originalz. If it doesn’t rain, there should be a lot to take in.

Afterwards, head over to Eighteenth Street Lounge, where longtime house DJ Sam "The Man" Burns spins tunes till 2 a.m., or check out "Community Service" at Patty Boom Boom. They aren’t part of the festival, but those are some of the best places in town to see serious hip-hop dancers in informal settings and learn about what hip-hop dance is really about right now.

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