When Gene Kelly passed away, a dance critic commented that he made truck drivers feel they could dance.
Dance Exchange has similar goals.
For 40 years – 20 of them in Takoma Park – Dance Exchange has been “democratizing” what is often seen as an “elitist” art form. The nonprofit organization believes “you don’t have to be a dancer to dance, that whoever you are, you can move your body,” said Alison Waldman, marketing and communications manager.
Dance Exchange serves people of all ages and abilities, encompasses a performing company, and builds relationships with artists and partners across diverse communities and disciplines. Some Dance Exchange artists are currently in a residency in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
Liz Lerman, who founded and was the first director of Dance Exchange, championed “socially-engaged art” and was the first choreographer to work with non-dancing senior adults.
The organization offers Saturday classes for families ($5 each participant, except that children under 3 are free); more-technique-based classes on Fridays, for ‘experienced movers’; afterschool programs for youngsters 8-18, community collaborations – such as with Dance Place in Brookland; and its Summer Institutes program.
The more-rigorous classes attract a wide range of people, from millennials who may have danced in college to professionals in their 50s and 60s, even into their 80s, who danced for years.
In all its programming, Dance Exchange addresses four questions, added Elizabeth Johnson, an associate artist and director of partnerships. “They are: ‘Who gets to dance?’ ‘Where is dance happening?’ ‘What is it about?’ and ‘Why does it matter?’”
Dance Exchange will introduce – or reintroduce – its local programs and launch its upcoming season on Thursday, Aug. 31, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The kickoff event will include a Moving Field Guide Experience – an environmentally oriented program Dance Exchange initiated.
Dance Exchange artists and local naturalists will lead the Experience.
On a lighter note, there’ll also be food and drinks.
Dance Exchange is “not a typical dance organization,” said Johnson. “We’re about social relevance and community. We are a touring, teaching, and performing program, which places artists locally but also all over the country and even overseas. We believe multiple voices make a community stronger.”
As exemplified by Gene Kelly famously dancing with animated mouse Jerry of “Tom and Jerry” cartoon fame in his film “Anchors Aweigh,” Dance Exchange considers movement not just for humans.
On Saturday, Aug. 26, the organization will host “Dance With Dogs,” in celebration of National Dog Day. Dog owners are invited to arrive with a leashed canine; all will be led through a series of simple movements designed to highlight the unique relationships we have with our dogs,” said Waldman. “No dance experience is necessary, but your dog(s) should be comfortable and calm around other dogs and people.”
A rehearsal begins at 9 a.m., followed by a showing an hour later.
Although the two-week immersion programs, Summer Institutes, are over this year, Dance Exchange is gearing up for January Institutes and next summer.