Trust me when I tell you that the Kennedy Dancers do it all. No joke. The company, which is based in Jersey City and was founded in 1976 by Artistic Director Diane Dragone, is a professional dance company (performing all manner of styles), a pre-professional training company, a dance school and a producer of a television show.
From modern to jazz to ballet, tap, belly-dancing, hip-hop and everywhere in between, the Kennedy Dancers have it covered. And you can get a taste of it all on Tuesday, August 14 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., when the Kennedy Dancers Repertory Company and their pre-professional training arm, the Kennedy Dancers Inner City Youth Dance Company, perform at Anderson Park in Montclair. And if you needed any more enticement: the performance is free and open to the public. Not only that, but you can just come (and go – not that you’d want to do that) as you wish, given its park location.
In the Kennedy Dancers’ 41-year history, this is the first time that they will be performing at Anderson Park. (And since the Kennedy Dancers are only about a year older than yours truly, it’s nice to see that there is still a first time for everything, even at 41!)
The works on the program for August 14 are:
- “Meadowlands Serenade,” choreographed by Diane Dragone
- “Cantalupo,” choreographed by Diane Dragone
- “In the Heights,” choreographed by Diane Dragone
- “Force of Circumstance,” choreographed by Sean Curran
- “Flying,” choreographed by Kathryn Reese
- “Blue Jay Way,” choreographed by Kathryn Reese
- “La Dolce Vita,” choreographed by Diane Dragone
I bet the “In the Heights” title caught your attention, huh? So “hey y’all good morning” – it IS the same music from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s OTHER (first) show about life in Washington Heights. Although Dragone wasn’t the choreographer of the original Broadway show, she did reimagine some of the club dance number, which will be danced at this performance.
When I spoke with Kathyrn Reese, one of the Kennedy Dancers professional dancers in her first season with the company, she said that this piece is a real party – literally. And It’s a lot of fun for them to dance, too, because not only does it involve both jazz and salsa styles, but the dancers can really just cut loose and feel like they are allowed to have fun while dancing, which isn’t always the case.
If you want to get a sense of the Kennedy Dancers in performance, check out this portion of “La Dolce Vita”:
Reese tells me that “La Dolce Vita” is one of her favorite pieces to dance. It’s very challenging, because there are a lot of lifts, “but when we get that one right, it feels soooooo good,” she tells me. Since Reese’s grandparents are Italian, she says, dancing that piece also feels like home for her, too.
In addition to the professional dancers, this Montclair performance also features some pre-professional (student) dancers from Kennedy’s Inner City Youth Program. Students from the school are sometimes given the opportunity to dance on the programs, and get the chance to sit in on the professionals’ rehearsals, Reese tells me.
Dragone says that the students get an extensive dance background: familiarity with a whole range of styles, plus performance and audition experience. Especially if they are looking to become professional dancers and/or choreographers, this is an amazing opportunity for these young students. In the case of this Montclair performance, two of the works will include the Inner City Youth Program dancers.
Performing a wide a range of dance styles isn’t unusual for the Kennedy Dancers. In fact, from my conversations with Dragone and Reese, it’s decidedly VERY typical for this company. Not only are the dance styles wide-ranging, but so are the musical choices: you’ll hear things like Beatles’ music (“Blue Jay Way” by Reese), salsa music from Broadway, and more.
At first, that seems a little all over the place. But then I realized how much that makes sense, especially for a performance like this that takes place in a park – looking to attract passersby and enticing them to stay and explore something new. (And performing in public areas without admission tickets is also something very usual for the Kennedy Dancers.)
When I asked Reese, who joined the school last year as a teacher, about working in all the different styles, she said that while she’s most familiar and comfortable with the more modern dance styles, Reese finds herself “dusting off” her jazz and ballet skills from her pre-college days. Other styles, such as those in the ballroom area, Reese really didn’t have much experience with, but has found it really exciting and interesting to learn them for the first time.
I asked Dragone who the Kennedy Dancers’ audience was, and she said very simply, “When you perform in a park, it’s everybody.” And there’s something just really exciting about the expansiveness and simplicity of that statement, which works hand in hand with the Kennedy Dancers M.O. When they offer a whole range of dance and musical styles on these performances, they may capture the attention of someone who is very familiar with something they see on stage, but then will stay for the next piece, which is likely to be something new and outside of their prior experience.
And for Reese, what makes the Kennedy Dancers extra special is the company’s ability to be in touch with their community. Dance, she says, is a pretty easy way to connect with a person – you build empathy through story-telling and movement and it’s a great way to knock down walls between people and get them to look up from their phones and appreciate a special, unique moment. Now, I’m an easy mark, since they had me at the word “dance,” but I can’t help but admire them and what they’re doing.
The Kennedy Dancers Repertory Company and the Inner City Youth Program present their live dance performance at Anderson Park, located at 274 Bellevue Avenue in Montclair on Tuesday, August 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This performance is free and open to the public; no tickets are needed. For more information, visit kennedydancers.org.