Dance can serve many purposes — ceremony, competition, seduction, performance — and then there are dances whose primary function is social. These are the dances taught in studios and practiced in gyms, community centers, and living rooms across the world. Often designed for partners and sometimes for larger groups, they range from Latin styles like tango, cha-cha, rumba, and salsa to the European waltz to New World inventions including hip-hop and swing. All of these styles can be performed on a stage — even danced in competition — yet their original function is to bring people together for the pure pleasure of dancing.
To Derrick Curtis, there’s no better reason to dance. Yet the seasoned teacher and performer also feels strongly that the infectious joy of social dance warrants a performance. Fifteen years ago, Curtis helped launch BASSH, Santa Barbara’s social-dance showcase where dedicated amateur and professional dancers could show their stuff onstage. Originally hosted by the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance (SBDA), BASSH went independent this year. And if last weekend’s spirited show is any indication, social dance continues to thrive in our region.
From the opening group work that wheeled through jazz, rumba, and hip-hop to the exuberant West African drumming and dancing of Panzumo Rhythm, Song, and Dance’s closing number, BASSH 2013 featured 16 acts and more than 60 performers. The program ranged from Felipe Castañeda’s sleek competition cha-cha to Estrellas Unidas Dance Team’s sizzling bachata and salsa to a blend of lindy hop, Charleston, and shag from some of Santa Barbara’s longtime swing dancers.
Though the production has always centered around the social aspect of dance, what makes BASSH work now more than ever is the community that supports it, from sponsors and audience members to participants and a hardworking volunteer staff, among them Lauren Breese, Kara Stewart, and Hector Sanchez. Curtis alone acted as producer and director, door greeter, performer, choreographer, and emcee. After curtain call, he called onto the stage two more women whose support made this year’s production possible: SBDA director Sheila Caldwell and Art Without Limits director Julie McLeod. Before they could set down their bouquets, Panzumo’s drummers struck up one last beat. And this time, the whole house rose up to dance.