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S.F. Ethnic Dance Festival 2015 Honors the 1915 Exposition

May 11, 2015

The 37th San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival will celebrate the centennial of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and its introduction of world dance and music to Americans and the multitude of visitors from the rest of the world.

Dance Festival publicist Scott Horton points to Hawaiian dance and music being prominent this season to reflect the genre's breakthrough a hundred years ago at the Exposition when musicians from the U.S.-annexed former kingdom became the "exotic sensation" at the San Francisco world fair, and then far beyond.

For example, Henry Ford brought Hawaiian dancers back with him to Detroit to perform at the Ford plant: "Given the profusion of Bay Area halaus [hula schools] to this day, Hawaiian dance and music clearly took a foothold here to stay," said Horton.

Ethnic Dance Festival Executive Director Julie Mushet weighs in:

Many people came to San Francisco in 1915 for the World's Fair — 18 million experienced more than 80,000 exhibits representing 42 countries — and world dance and music were center stage. For many visitors, it was their first experience with many cultures from outside the U.S.

One hundred  years later, it's extraordinary to note what an important center for world dance and music the Bay Area remains, with virtually countless artists and companies based here. The festival is an annual celebration and opportunity to experience this breadth of world cultures.”

The festival opens with a ceremony and free show in the S.F. City Hall Rotunda on June 5, featuring two Bay Area Hawaiian dance groups: Halau 'o Keikiali'i and Hula Halau 'o Ku'ulei. (City Hall itself, Arthur Brown Jr.'s masterpiece of American Renaissance architecture, dates from 1915,  a busy year in the city's history, only nine years after the devastation by the Great Quake.)

After the opening, the festival will return to its old home, the reopened Palace of Fine Arts, which underwent a major renovation. Hundreds of artists will present dance and music traditions from China, Europe, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Korea, Liberia, Mexico, the Middle East, Peru, the Philippines, Senegal, Spain, South Africa, the continental U.S., and Uzbekistan.

On June 21, the festival moves to the Forum and Grand Lobby of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, participating in the  Consulate General of India’s International Day of Yoga, which will honor Bay Area dancers who have helped influence the development of yoga in America.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].