Dancers above all other artists should be masters of change. After all, dance makes an art out of movement, and what is movement but change over time? Yet dancers are also human; though they may embrace change, they also find it difficult.
Over the course of the past year, Santa Barbara’s social dance community has faced a significant shift, as the future of its most popular annual performance was thrown into doubt. Between 2000 and 2012, the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance (SBDA) presented an annual social dance showcase known as BASSH. The title was an acronym — Ballroom, Argentine Tango, Swing, Salsa, and Hip-Hop — as well as a promise of explosive energy. BASSH drew together dancers and choreographers from a wide spectrum of regional studios, dance styles, and levels of expertise. Generally held at the Lobero Theatre each spring, BASSH routinely brought down the house, which was packed with jubilant friends and supporters.
Like so many organizations, SBDA has had to reassess its mission in recent years, due to a changing economy and a shifting community. Last year, the alliance — an umbrella organization whose mission is to unite dance artists and resources — began to talk seriously about scaling back their program of showcases in order to focus more on behind-the-scenes support. In April 2013, SBDA tried a new approach, renaming BASSH “Synergy” and focusing on pairing professional choreographers from different genres to cocreate hybrid performances.
Meanwhile, some of those who had participated in BASSH over the years resisted the changes. Hector Sanchez, a Latin dancer, choreographer, and instructor at the Santa Barbara Dance Center (SBDC), had his first performance onstage at BASSH and felt sorry to see that opportunity vanish. Derrick Curtis, one of the founders of BASSH and a longtime social dance instructor and performer, was determined to see the showcase survive. Together with other dedicated participants, including Sanchez, Lauren Breese, and Kara Stewart, Curtis went to work planning a new life for BASSH.
This Friday, September 27, BASSH returns in its original incarnation: an evening of dance performances from social dance studios and fitness programs across the city. Included on the program are six companies, 16 works, and over 60 performers in genres ranging from hip-hop to musical theater, tap to waltz, and foxtrot to West African dance. Among the groups featured are Justbaila! Latin Dance Company, which will perform a contemporary paso doble; Fusion Dance Company with hip-hop; and Estrellas Unidas Dance Team, which will blend salsa and bachata. Panzumo Rhythm, Song & Dance will close out the show with rousing African drumming and dancing.
“I didn’t want to let BASSH go a year without being produced,” explained Curtis, who had to hustle to draw together a group of performers dedicated to rehearsing during the summer months for the September show date. Though the show is no longer produced by SBDA, both past and present directors of the organization are in full support of Curtis’s mission. Julie McLeod, former SBDA director and founder of the arts mentorship nonprofit Art Without Limits, remembered Curtis’s initiative in launching BASSH and praised his “charm and expertise in social dance.” Art Without Limits has provided fiscal sponsorship for the show. Current SBDA executive director Sheila Caldwell also made her backing clear. “Santa Barbara Dance Alliance fully supports Derrick in his dedication to keep the spirit of BASSH alive and thriving,” she said. “We hope the passion he brings to this well-loved social dance showcase will continue to inspire and entertain our community for years to come.”
With active support from SBDA and Art Without Limits, Curtis feels confident this won’t be BASSH’s last stand. To him, this show is all about inclusion, bringing people together to experience the joy and connection that social dance affords. To that end, he has subtitled the production “The Art and Soul of Social Dance.” Following the closing night’s show, audience and cast members will gather at SBDC’s studios for a community dance party, featuring a range of music and styles. Ultimately, Curtis hopes, BASSH will encourage those who’ve never performed before to consider taking the stage. n
BASSH hits Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo) Friday, September 27, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, September 28, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Call (805) 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org for tickets and info. Following Saturday night’s show, there will be a post-performance dance party at Santa Barbara Dance Center at 9 p.m.