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Dance smorgasbord

International Dance Festival is high on variety, low on pressure

Fancy a little salsa? How about some Chinese or Afro-Haitian? At Silicon Valley's fourth annual International Dance Festival, there's something for everyone.

Organizer Leslie Friedman has had an impressive and globe-tripping career as a professional dancer; she has taught and performed in Russia and China, Hungary and Spain, India and Egypt, to name just a few countries. Yet her purpose in holding an international dance festival in Mountain View isn't just to share her personal experience. Instead, Friedman aims to inspire absolute beginners and seasoned dancers alike to try a little something new, and is bringing in instructors from a range of backgrounds to share their expertise.

"For a tap dancer, this might be a chance to try a contemporary or salsa class and have a great time," Friedman explained. "You could be a ballerina and never have had a chance to do a tap class. This is your chance."

The weeklong festival, held Aug. 9-16 at Mountain View's Masonic Lodge, includes a full day of dance on Saturday, Aug. 15. The day is specifically aimed at beginners, and includes sessions in classical Chinese dance, Cuban salsa, Pilates and line dancing, among other styles. Participants can come for a single class or stay for the day, an option Friedman said is the most fun, as well as the most bang for your buck.

Other offerings throughout the week include Monday-Friday technique classes in various styles, drop-in classes in Afro-Haitian and Cuban salsa, a free salsa dance demonstration and coffee tasting, and even a "choreocubator" for those who want to try their hand at choreography. The festival closes with a performance on Sunday, Aug. 16, at 3 p.m., when instructors and students alike will share what they've developed over the course of the week.

Though many dance schools and companies in the Bay Area and beyond offer summer festivals and workshops, few combine such a wide range of dance styles into a single event. That's something Friedman is particularly proud of as she prepares to launch the fourth season of the festival.

"The only other festivals that do something like this are the venerable festivals back East: American Dance Festival at Duke University in North Carolina and Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts," she said. "There is really nothing like that out West. The idea is to offer enrichment, to bring people a combination of offerings they do not have throughout the year in one festival."

Yet unlike those larger festivals, part of the International Dance Festival's mission is to draw in newcomers to dance.

Among this year's instructors is Palo Alto resident Etta Walton, who began as a participant at the festival. A former care facility director, Walton is now retired. She loves line dancing, and will be offering a class at the end of the full day of dance for anyone who wants to give the style a try.

"Everybody stands in line, you don't need a partner and you all do the same moves," she explained. "You can have all ages, from very young to very old. You can have two left feet and it works out fine. People don't care if you miss a step."

However, Walton said, line dancing should come with a warning.

"If you come one time, it's going to be addictive and you'll want to come again," she said.

The festival has certainly proven addictive for Mountain View resident Myu Campbell, a hardware engineer who didn't begin dancing until she was in her 50s.

"When I left the workforce, I wanted to make sure I had a way to stay connected to people and stay active," she explained. "Dance does that for me."

Campbell added that while she knows it's important to get regular exercise, she never found treadmills or weight machines very inspiring.

"When I go to the gym, I feel like a rat in a lab, but going to dance is just so fun," she said. "You meet different people from different walks of life. We've had grandmothers and 20-somethings just out of college attend. I find it invigorating. I don't want to live in a silo where I only meet people just like me."

To appeal to a wide audience, Friedman is bringing in various instructors this year, including New York-based contemporary and salsa dancer Leanne Rinelli, who has studied Cuban dance in Havana, and Leslie Arbogast, a certified Dunham technique instructor from San Diego who has taught internationally and will introduce students to the Afro-Haitian style. Also on this year's teaching team are tap dancer and clown Megan Ivey, who trained at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and Ann Woo, founder and director of San Jose-based Chinese Performing Arts of America.

Regardless of what you think appeals to you, Friedman said, it's worth taking a risk and trying something new. After all, there's not much to lose.

"Dance classes can be intimidating or overly competitive, and people can stay away because

they worry about that," she acknowledged. "But IDF has a very friendly, supportive atmosphere. Dance is supposed to be an expression of health and joy. It's really terrific fun."

What: International Dance Festival, Silicon Valley

Where: Mountain View Masonic Lodge, 890 Church St., and Pacific Ballet Academy, 1095 Wright Ave., Mountain View

When: Sunday, Aug. 9 to Sunday, Aug. 16. Full day of dance: Saturday, Aug. 15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $25 per single class, $379 for a full festival pass. Discounts available. For complete pricing information, see website.

Info: Go to livelyfoundation.org/wordpress or email livelyfoundation@sbcglobal.net.

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