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Kids Get Groove On at Stern Grove

Stern Grove Festival

June 24-26, July 8-10, and 22-24

San Francisco's Stern Grove kicks off its summer Kids Days shows with three separate programs that highlight diverse styles of dance. From the pulsating beats of Indian bhangra and urban hip-hop to ballet arabesques, there'll be every reason to move to the music at each performance.

The Dholrhythms Dance Company takes the wooded amphitheatre stage June 24-26. Then, July 8-10 the San Francisco Ballet Center for Dance Education promises to tease out the dancer in everyone. Capping the summer program, Dance Mission brings high-octave fusion movement and stories from its multicultural hub in San Francisco's Mission district July 22-24.

"The festival has had wonderful success with dance programs, as they offer education not just in movement, but in rhythm, world culture, and live music," said Alyssa Stone, Stern Grove Festival education and outreach manager, in an e-mail. The San Francisco Ballet Center for Dance Education, for example, will offer live music and drum workshops as part of their Kids Days show.

"We cross as many boundaries and genres as possible within a season, to engage participants in the phenomenal arts community the Bay Area has to offer," said Stone.

The hyper-energetic moves of the Dholrhythms Dance Company are guaranteed to get an audience moving when it performs bhangra, a folk dance from the Punjab region of North India. The Berkeley-based troupe highlights the ancestral and ethnic roots of bhangra while pushing boundaries with contemporary influences.

The company's Punjbai-born co-founder and principal dancer Vicki Virk grew up with bhangra. "It's such a big part of my culture," she said in an e-mail. "What I find most beautiful about this dance, and the reason that I love teaching and performing it, is that it's so free spirited, joyful, and inviting. It has this amazing energy that draws people in to move even if they don't fully know how, or want to dance."

Dance historians trace bhangra's origins back 500 years and believe it could be older. The basic movements relate to farming activities. A barrel-size drum called the dhol and a single-string instrument called the tumbi are played while dancing bhangra.

The dance form has become increasingly popular in North America. Dholrhythms even offers a monthly dance event, Non Stop Bhangra in San Francisco. Bhangra music is often blended by DJ's who combine contemporary music, such as hip-hop, with the traditional sounds. Moviegoers may recall the Bollywood-style dance scenes in the Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire choreographed to contemporary bhangra music.

Dholrhythms' Stern Grove show includes teaching kids what bhangra is, where it comes from, followed by dance performances by the company, according to Virk. After the performances, the kids are split into smaller groups and company members will teach each group a simple dance routine. At the end of the afternoon, each group of kids will perform what they learned for each other and their parents.

"We love doing Stern Grove because we get an opportunity to teach so many young kids from so many different backgrounds," said Virk. "It's a beautiful release and one that often leaves everyone smiling."

Journalist Molly Colin writes about the arts and cultural trends.