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'Dancing on the Square' to be offered Saturday

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After a successful run last year, the Atlanta Festival Ballet will once again host "Dancing on the Square," starting this Saturday on the McDonough Square. The program, funded by Arts Clayton through the governor's Grassroots Arts Program, will give people of all ages a free chance to learn the basics of swing, rumba, West-African dancing, line dancing, and other styles.

The event will take place on Saturday, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and again at the same time on May 23. Judi Peterson, vice president of the board of directors for the Atlanta Festival Ballet, said the program gives the ballet a chance to reach out to the public beyond the walls of its Stockbridge-based studio.

"This is a program I came up with as a community outreach project for the ballet," Peterson said. The program is designed to "take dance out to the public, to take it outdoors and make it casual," she said.

Peterson said the program will lead into the city of McDonough's annual "Music on the Square" celebration, which takes place annually in June. She said the public will be able to learn that the Atlanta Festival Ballet teaches more than just ballet, and that people do not have to be professionals to learn basic dance moves.

"Some people are very self-conscious about dancing in front of other people, but this is a very easy environment to learn how to do those dances," Peterson said. "It will be very non-threatening ... last year, we had people from toddlers, all the way up to 70 years old who were out there dancing."

Children attending the event will also be able to enjoy instruction in "beach dancing," which includes familiar dances like the "the swim," "the monkey," and the "the twist." For children ages 3 to 9, there will also be a dance contest, in which the top prize is a free trimester of dance lessons at the Atlanta Festival Ballet.

Sara Cookson, Arts Clayton program event coordinator, is also responsible for administering Grassroots Arts Program grants for non-profit arts organizations in 10 metro-Atlanta counties. She said "Dancing on the Square" has been one of the GAP's most successful, new programs.

"We have a group of about 35 people from 10 counties who come in and deliberate over these projects, and everyone was very favorable about the project," said Cookson. "It exposes people to the art of dance that normally wouldn't take the time to learn. Kids will get engaged in it and be encouraged to pursue more dancing in the future."

Giselle Pugh, director of operations for Atlanta Festival Ballet, also works as a dance instructor for the studio. She said the event gives experienced dancers a chance to get outside of their comfort zone.

"Working in the classroom, I am doing a lot of tap, jazz and ballet," said Pugh. "They are learning the rumba and swing. They can use that at weddings and social gatherings. It's really nice to learn new dances and to share those with others."

Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and discouraged from wearing flip-flops and backless shoes. For more information, call (770) 507-2775.