This is just what New York City needs right now – music and dance and color as thousands of dancers shimmy and leap and tango down Broadway during the 16th annual Dance Parade and Festival celebration on May 21.
In this glorious convening of cultures and people sharing the festive costumes and movements of over 100 different dance styles from all over the world, the parade returns this year under the theme “Back to the Streets” after a two-year pandemic hiatus of virtual offerings. And the energized dancing is not just for performers, everyone is invited to dance the pandemic away.
“You don’t have to come out and only watch,” said Greg Miller, executive director and founder of Dance Parade that he and his team created in 2006 as a pushback to the then decades-old New York City Cabaret Law that placed restrictions on social dancing. “It is a participatory event, we encourage people to dance.”
He said whatever style of dancing someone is interested in, they can find it at the parade, because that is the goal of the organization – “to get the diversity out” and show people how very many different dance styles and cultures are out there.
“If you know a little salsa, join the salsa group, if you know tango, there’s a live tango band,” he said. “Or if you like house music and you know who DJ Rich Medina is (one of the event’s Grand Marshals), so maybe you want to dance around his float.” He added that they were also happy to lead out the parade this year with a Ukrainian group where people will get a chance to see what Ukrainian dance looks like.
From Ballet to Roller Disco
It is a big event. More than 10,000 dancers of all ages, some on 20 floats of all designs, showcasing their skills in ballet or hip-hop, belly-dancing, Indonesian or African dance or roller disco-ing from the starting point at 20th Street and Broadway at 12:00 p.m., heading downtown toward Tompkins Square Park. In addition to Rich Medina – house, hip hop and Afrobeat DJ – the two other Grand Marshals are Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director & CEO of Ballet Hispánico; and Heidi Latsky, Artistic Director of Heidi Latsky Dance. Mayor Eric Adams will also be there.
“You no longer need a license for dancing (since 2017) but there are zoning restrictions for where you can dance, and that’s what Mayor Adams says he wants to change,” says Miller. “So we are excited to have Mayor Adams come to cut the ribbon with us and support the parade. He’ll be the first mayor to join the parade.”
Miller, a lifelong supporter of the arts, long before he made it a fulltime career, talks about how inspiring it is to see the positive effects dance has on everyone, especially young people.
“Dancing is a healthy activity, it needs to be protected as good for culture, good for mental health.” And it helps to improve the self-esteem for youth, he said. Many of these youngsters who will participate with their team in the 40-seconds choreography slots at the Grandstand at Astor Place as they turn east toward the park on Saint Marks Place.
“Everyone is Really Excited”
Janelle Issis, fulltime choreographer, performer and instructor in Bellydance, says she will have a float with 45 ladies in beautiful costumes and showing all they have learned in classes with her.
“It’s turning out to be a wonderful experience so far,” she said of the planning and preparation and costuming of such a big group. “I feel super blessed to have all these women wanting to dance and perform and connect again. I think everyone is really excited to be back in the streets.”
A longtime participant in the parade, she believes this year’s large number of dancers and anticipated spectators promises that “it is going to be incredible.” The DanceFest at Tompkins Square Park from 3 – 7 p.m. continues the fun with a festival across five stages of performances, she says.
“It’s an awesome family event [where] you can expose yourself to so much culture in one day.”
A lot of culture, and to get New York City humming again, is Miller’s plan.
“The pandemic took away our connection and community, so we want to have more of that, be back to the streets,” he said. “This year’s event just has so much energy behind it, because we’re coming back to what we want New York to be.”
For more information about the 16th Annual Dance Parade on Saturday, May 21, visit: https://danceparade.org/