The Queensboro Dance Festival is back, and, for the ninth year in a row, is bringing performances of all kinds to communities throughout the borough.
The program kicked off on June 5 with a performance in the Queens Pride Parade, and this past weekend, another at Windmuller Park. The summer-long festival will continue through September, culminating with a final show on Oct. 2 at Queens Theatre.
This year’s programming is far from what founder and Executive Director Karesia Batan could have imagined nearly a decade ago — in its first year, the festival had only a four-night run at the Secret Theatre, then in Long Island City.
At the time of the festival’s founding, Batan was working as a freelance dancer, and was struggling to find gigs and rehearsals within Queens.
“It made me think, ‘There must be other dancers in Queens like me — where’s everybody going?’” Batan told the Chronicle. “It was really just a way to have a gathering place for Queens dancers to share work and meet one another.”
And the need for that, she soon found, was great.
“There have been dance groups in Queens that have been, for example, around for decades, but really have never performed outside of their community,” Batan explained, citing that as part of the reason for the tour.
At the same time, performing within certain neighborhoods is part of the beauty of the Queensboro Dance Festival: The tour seeks to expose communities to the arts in their own backyards. And sometimes, that means using unconventional spaces.
“We kind of pop up in neighborhoods where maybe people are not used to seeing live, professional dance happening,” Batan told the Chronicle. “So we sort of just create this accessible space for people to come and enjoy a show, then we pack up and leave, and then it just becomes a park again.”
Part of scouting sites for shows, Batan said, is fielding insights from community members to hear where a performance might be best-suited — but also where the most need is.
“We want to make sure that it is a place that can have the most impact, and also be a great performance experience for the dancers,” she said.
But above all, the Queensboro Dance Festival is intended to be a “cultural exchange.”
“Very similar to the diversity of the different neighborhoods and how we kind of live in these like different pockets, various communities, it’s similarly reflected in the dance world,” Batan said. “In order to get a true idea of what the landscape looks like across the whole borough, we had to be across the whole borough.”
This year, the festival is partnering with both Queens Rising, an initiative meant to celebrate the borough’s diversity in the arts, and Turnout NYC, a citywide pilot program that provides groups with outdoor furniture in order to foster events in public spaces.
To find a full list of this year’s dance groups and performances, visit queensborodancefestival.com. The next event is the festival’s Juneteenth show, at Leavitts Park at 3 p.m. June 19.