Home » REVIEW: San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival – June 6, 2015

REVIEW: San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival – June 6, 2015

All of the dancers in the Ethnic Dance Festival were superb. These dancers know what they are doing. They are all professionals. I tried to pick out one dancer in each group who was messing up in some way, but never saw one.

For credits on each performance, go to www.worldartswest.org

Hiyas Philipine Folk Dance Company

The Philippines

Smiles! So many smiling faces. They all looked so happy. Rural folk dances from the Philippines involve dances with coconuts shells, dances with candles balanced on the womens’ heads, paddling, dancing on top of benches, dancing with drinks in their hands, dancing while stepping between moving bamboo poles that the other dancers open and close on the floor to the rhythm of the music.

The Court Dance of the Tang Dynasty


There were two main dancers and a group of other dancers. The two main dancers had long, rainbow-colored ribbons streaming from each hand. Their beautiful, sparking costumes were courtly indeed. Gracefully gliding across the stage to soothing music, twirling their long, rainbow-colored ribbons, they looked like fairies from another world, transforming into birds and flowers. The other dancers had long sleeves that acted like ribbons. They spun and swirled their sleeves in graceful unison.

Wushu dancers are exciting, high-flying acrobats, spinning with swords, guan dao, and staff. The dancer whacked his staff on the ground so hard, it shattered and the end flew off. We all cringed as the dancer completed his dance while swinging the splintering staff around his head, spinning and whirling. Very exciting! Nobody was injured.


West Java, Indonesia

Marital arts blended into rhythmic, graceful, stories of conflict and peace; balance; sad and happy at the same time; ancient and timeless; old and new; traditional and modern; incredibly moving. The first piece, Paleredan, is named for the national martial art, pancak silat. It’s a bit like Ti Chi. Slow and methodical, the dancers go through series of synchronized movements using fans to mark the four directions. The music was very beautiful and the dancers; graceful and strong.

The second piece Bajidor Kahot, was in the dance style of jaipongan. There was a lot going on. The music was a modern take on traditional Indonesian music with elements of Balinese and Sudanese gamelan metallophones, gongs, drums, spike fiddles, suling bamboo flutes, and a singer! The woman’s costume is a traditional jaipongan stage dress and the man’s dress is based on martial arts attire. It’s a flirtatious, refined, elegant dance in which the dancers circle each other like they are sparring; fans opening and closing in harmony like big flowers or birds of paradise.

This was my favorite group of the evening.

Starchild Dance

Harlem, US

The two person urban dance team performed Skit Skat How ‘Bout That. 1920’s jazz, patting juba, or hambone, Oakland boogaloo, Locking, House dance, Get life and Cypher are all part of the Starchild experience. Some of the original hip-hop dance styles of the early twentieth century brought to life on stage! The dancers fancy footwork and incredible rhythm were daunting for the audience. When encouraged to clap, the audience was sort of in shock. i think maybe people were concentrating on what they were watching too intently to clap. The dancers were accompanied by a trumpet player and a drummer.

Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco


In Flora de Piña, the female dancers love their pineapples! They took them everywhere. Dancing in beautiful huipil (look it up), the energy and precision were amazing.The men wear big sombreros and wave handkerchiefs.

Danza de Diablos – Dance of the Devils was another big-energy romp in which the dancers wear devil demon masks with long, flowing beards and big, curling horns on their heads. Their eyes are bugging out and their beards sway as they prance around. The white pony tails suggest colonial landlords during Mexico’s colonial era, when enslaved Africans labored in Mexican haciendas.

Chilena Oaxaqueña is from Santiago Pinotepa Nacional, on La Costa Chica in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Chilean sailors brought their dance of interpretive steps invented on the spot called cueca and zamacueca, which were quickly adopted by Mestizo Mexican communities.

All highly entertaining dances performed with enthusiasm and passion!

Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers


Scottish dancing is refined and elegant. Like a reproduction of a courtly party, dancers stood on the sidelines and watched as pairs or groups of four danced together. The men high on their toes, sometimes with one or both arms up came together with their partnering the center, spinning in and out; kilt and skirts twirling together. In rhythmic simplicity the highlands were brought to San Francisco.

Jikelele Dance Theater

South Africa

The dance began with a song/conversation between a man and a woman. I cannot understand Bantu, but it began as the man saying a lot of stuff and the woman responding. This pattern continued as a call and response throughout the performance. The Bantu language involves clicking the tongue (you may have seen The Gods Must Be Crazy). The conversation began as emphatic statements and evolved into an almost tantrum-like rant by the male performer who swung his staff around his body in his excitement. The man meets up with another man with two drums and they begin drumming. The dancers come out of the wings and begin dancing in unison, stomping and hopping with such energy and vitality. Their faces plastered with such large smiles it almost made my cheeks hurt to look at them. There expressions changed to grimaces when performing certain moves. The male dancers had big red plumes on their heads that waved as they danced. Their high kicks and shouts were exhilerating. The large plumes on their heads exaggerated their synchronized head movements to emphasize the emotion of the dance.

At one point, one of the dancers’ beaded necklaces broke and large round beads scattered all over the stage. The dancers avoided them as they kept performing. It must have happened before, because they were not phased in the least.

Clean Up

The stage hands came out with brooms right after that performance and we all clapped to cheer them on.

Shabnam Shirivani

Middle East and US

Shabnam Shirvani is a powerful, athletic dancer. Her musical accompanists were five women playing drums and finger cymbals. They danced as they played which probably compromised the music somewhat. It’s hard to play a drum and dance at the same time.

The dance she performed is called Arabian Ostrich: Plumes, Maqsoom, and Doumbek Tunes. The Arabian is an extinct bird once indigenous of the Middle East. Shaman’s choreography, based on raks sharki or belly dance, is inspired by the ostriches and an illustration of the “camel bird” from Book of Animals by Al-Jahiz. Her flowing arms, curving body, hair tosses and backbends are reminiscent of ostriches, to be sure. 

Academy of Hawaiian Arts


Kuma Hula Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu can sing! His commanding voice charges the air combined with his drumming. Dancers performed in unison and solo. Scenes of Hawaii unfolding before our eyes; waves crashing on the beach, volcanoes soaring into the clouds, beloved hotels amongst the palm trees, stars sparkling in the night sky, beautiful sunsets. There were so many dancers dancing in unison; arms moving in graceful arcs; feet gliding from step to step. The fun, joy, colors, and beauty of Hawaii represented in expressive dance and music.

Every year, at the end of the evening, the dancers all come back out on stage, dance, and bow for the audience. The audience stands up and claps to the music as each dance group comes back out on stage. They don’t leave the stage either. They simply all come out on stage together! Then, they go dancing down the aisles to the lobby where the celebration continues. Everyone from all different cultures and ethnicities dancing together! It’s a wonderful experience for all ages!

Vision For the Future

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has called for competing concept proposals for a Master Lease for the Palace of Fine Arts. The Ethnic Dance Festival has drafted a concept proposal and is awaiting news for the next steps. ArtsEarth applauds all proposals for encouraging the arts.

Please go towww.worldartswest.org for more information on how you can get involved.

Save the Dates
2016 Festival Auditions

Auditions this fall at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater
San Francisco Ethic Dance Festival, November 7-8 and November 14-15, 2015

Please look for it next year. Go to the Ethnic Dance Festival website www.worldartswest.org. Support these artists!

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