Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council (Batavia, NY)

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    Sufi dancer in brightly colored mid-spin.

Yasser Darwish performing a secular Sufi spinning dance during the On Your Feet! dance festival in Medina, New York. Photo by Tom Rivers

Western New York, mostly rural outside the large cities of Buffalo and Rochester, is not the place you would expect to find an Egyptian Sufi performing the famous spinning dance. But when the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council, also known as Go Art!, put on its celebration of community and ethnic dance traditions from New York State -- called On Your Feet! -- that was one of the acts audiences saw performed.

In FY 2006, Go Art! received an NEA Challenge America grant of $10,000 to support the dance festival, which took place at two locations in Genesee and Orleans Counties -- the April 28th event in Pavilion and the April 29th event in Medina. Each free event featured one-hour workshops for participants to learn dances, followed by a dance concert and refreshments. "The event also turned out to be a vibrant exchange between dancers from the region, and those who traveled from the New York City area to participate and offer lesser known traditions," said Karen Canning, director of the Traditional Arts Program at Go Art!

Groups performing included the Niagara River Dancers, based in the Tuscarora Nation near Niagara Falls, New York, performing traditional Native American dances; the Borinquen Dance Theatre, from Rochester, presenting dances from different regions of Puerto Rico; the Polish Heritage Dancers of Western New York from Lancaster, invoking Polish folk dance; Kelly's Old Timers, a square dance band from Perry; Yasser Darwish of Bay Ridge, who performs tanoura, the traditional Egyptian Sufi spinning dance; and Rita Silva from Brooklyn, performing dances in the Brazilian candomblé tradition, a blend of Yoruba spiritist belief and Roman Catholic symbolism.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)