On Saturday, March 13, 2021, Union City High School’s Dance Department hosted their 8th annual NJHS Dance Fest. While this is the 9th year of the festival, last year’s festival unfortunately had to be canceled the week of due to the pandemic as it was set to happen on March 12th, 2020. As a result, the NJHSDF Committee chose to host this year’s festival virtually. Mrs. Cristen Pennello (dane educator at Union City High School) started this festival with the support of the Union City Board of Education and the UCHS administration back in 2013. There was not much out there for high school dance programs, so Cristen created something wonderful that would bring us all together as a dance community as well as expose our students to the professional dance world.
The purpose was to provide a platform for the dance students and dance educators of the state of NJ to come together and dance, network, and learn from one another. The students typically perform for one another during open adjudications, participate in several different workshops taught by master dance educators, professional development for the teachers, selected students participate in a scholarship class to try out for several summer dance conservatory programs, and the day culminates with a Professional Dance Concert.
For this year, the committee chose to host a teachers-only Pilates workshop followed by 6 other Zoom dance workshops for the students. We still hosted a scholarship class as well, and Rutgers University and Nimbus Dance partied in giving scholarships to select students for their summer dance programs. This year we asked the teachers to submit student performance videos, and we put them together into a Virtual Student Showcase that was streamed live for all through a zoom webinar. We opened up the chat feature during the show, and all of the students and teachers were able to comment and interact during the webinar…it was fantastic! The final part of the day included professional development for the participating dance educators.
We were so happy to host 13 schools this year from all over New Jersey, and as an added treat, we are sending the teachers a care package of performance videos with talking point and lesson plans from three local NJ Dance Companies. Since we could not host a live performance, we chose to go with this instead. As a thank you to these companies, and to show our support to our fellow artists during this very difficult time, we chose to make donations to all three of these companies. Live performances have not been happening for a year now, and these privately owned companies are suffering. We would like to give back any way that we can, because the dance world is so small, and we all play a part.
The companies that we are donating to are: Carolyn Dorfman Dance, Nimbus Dance, and Ariel Rivka Dance.