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A decade of dance

Olympia Dance Festival celebrates to the beat

Julia Erickson, a Seattleite ballerina and former principal dancer for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Photo courtesy of Ballet Northwest

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"People come to see beauty," said Judith Jamison, former artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, "and I dance to give it to them."

Thurston County's about to get served a veritable banquet of beauty in the form of Olympia Dance Festival. The capital city is the hub for a number of talented dance companies, but widespread interest in those companies' work seems to peak in time for The Nutcracker and then recede by New Year's Day. This March festival, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, is here to remind Pacific Northwesterners we should celebrate our diversity of terpsichorean talent all year long. Ballet will be represented joyously, of course, but in this program, it's blended with styles from cultures all over the planet.

The program for this celebration of a decade of dance offers a baker's dozen troupes comprising hundreds of dancers. Of these groups, six have appeared in all nine previous festivals: Ballet Northwest; Debbi's Dance, Etc.; Johansen Olympia Dance Center; Slieveloughane Irish Dancers; Southwest Washington Dance Ensemble (a troupe from Chehalis) and Studio West Dance Theatre. Josie and Ken Johnson serve as directors of Johansen Olympia Dance Center but also as co-artistic directors of the nonprofit troupe that calls the center home, Ballet Northwest. The Johnsons began teaching at the dance center in 2004 and took on its co-directorship after founders Bud and Mary Johansen retired from those positions four years later.

Also appearing at the Olympia Dance Festival will be Amirat Dance Company from Seattle, Fang Fei Chinese Dance, Harbor Dance, Inspired to Move Dance Academy in Lacey, Mas Uda Dancers, Olympic Ballroom Dance, South Sound Dance and Southwest Washington Dance Ensemble. That opens the stage to styles including ballet, ballroom, Chinese, contemporary, hip-hop, Irish, jazz, Middle Eastern and tap.

Then there are the featured guests. Julia Erickson is a Seattleite ballerina and former principal dancer for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Sam Picart won Ellen DeGeneres' "Dance Off" competition and teaches hip-hop moves to students all over the country. Erickson and Picart will perform solos and then mix ballet with hip-hop in one exciting duet. Cellist Joe Sokolik and pianist Naoko Sokolik will perform music for that duet live. He teaches orchestra at Chinook Middle School, while she's a music specialist at South Bay Elementary. The Sokoliks were married in Central Washington University's Hertz Hall, where they met and fell in love as music students in the early 2000s.

The festival promises to bring appreciative audience members to their feet. "The diversity of styles and backgrounds is really exciting," said Ken Johnson. "We even have a short dance film this year. There's definitely something for everyone. ... It's fun to see the range of young dancers to adult dancers, Chinese and belly dancing groups." As for the content of each act, Johnson explains, "It's up to the groups. They apply to participate but they bring their own pieces that showcase their dancers. Everyone brings their top dancers and pieces to the festival to showcase their own form, so it's really fun to see that enthusiasm and great quality of dance in our community."

When we asked Johnson what inspires him most about the festival, he replied, "It's those 200-plus dancers coming together, really cheering each other on and showing their appreciation for each other and different dance styles. It's really fun to see that enthusiasm for dance in our community."

THE OLYMPIA DANCE FESTIVAL, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, $18, 360.753.8586,

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