By David Rogers. NEW YORK CITY — Few places in the world rival New York City’s Times Square for conflicting visuals and that was certainly the case on April 22 when the High Country’s Carolina Snowbelles graced the pop-up stage at Pedestrian Plaza, in the intersection of Broadway, 44th Street and 7th Avenue.
Performing as part of Project Dance, an initiative founded by Blowing Rock’s Cheryl Cutlip in 2002 to help connect New York City after the gruesome 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the Snowbelles’ performances brought whoops, hollars and whistles aplenty along with enthusiastic applause. The dance team formed by Cutlip at her studio, The Space at Project Dance in Boone, was all smiles while feeding off the energy that only an outdoor venue in a big city can provide. Professional theaters on every one of several blocks around them in the heart of the nation’s No. 1 theater district, this was the world of Tony Award winners of a storied past and present.
But the Snowbelles were not the only attraction of the nearly seven-hour, open-air and free dance concert in the middle of urban frenzy.
“9/11 served as the impetus for us wanting to help New York City heal,” said Jen Byers, the assistant producer and stage manager for Project Dance. “But the work continues to be important because of other calamity events like the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit New York City hard.”
Byers told High Country Sports that Project Dance has run continuously since 2002, but had to be go on a hiatus in New York for the last four years.
“This is our first year back and we are thrilled to be here,” said Byers, who by trade has for several years served as a professional performing artist and freelance makeup artist based in New York City.
“This has come together with a whole lot of volunteers and a whole lot of love,” Byers explained. “We started the spring after 9/11 with a heart to bring hope and healing to New York City through dance and movement. The initiative took off and is now global. We do these open-air, outside and free dance concerts all over the world. Cheryl Cutlip is the founding director.”
Byers said the event features almost 30 dance companies.
“They have traveled in from all over the U.S. I think the furthest is from Hawaii,” Byers reported. “Our youngest dancers are close to 10 years old and it goes all the way up to adult, even professionals.”
For Byers, working with Project Dance has personal meaning.
“It was started to bring hope and healing to the city through dance. Particularly in New York City, in coming out of the pandemic we have experienced a lot challenges and struggles. i feel like it is a great time right now to bless the city with the arts,” said Byers
Project Dance, of course, now in its 23rd year and more than 100 dance events all over the world embossed on its resume, is more than any single dance studio or company. It is a collaborative effort that has evolved as a nationwide experience. The parent non-profit, Project Dance Foundation, has relationships with dance studios similar to Cutlip’s all over the country and several were on hand for the 2023 Project Dance event in Times Square. Among the states represented were North Carolina, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Connecticut, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, to name a few.
While the Carolina Snowbelles have a style that has a decidedly “Radio City Rockettes” flair, reflecting Cutlip’s 15-year career with the Rockettes in New York City, one of the unique characteristics of the outdoor, open-air event called “Project Dance” is that spectators will see polished routines styled in ballet, hip hop, modern, jazz, and tap. Many of the performances are choreographed to tell a story, many with religious themes. Others may be romantic or artistically acrobatic but all delivered entertaining fun, if not emotional or inspirational meaning. In a word, it was a beautiful event.
Audience favorites included artistic presentations such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” a couple of hip hop numbers, a tap routine, as well as Ava Cutlip’s jazz dance tribute to the late Chet Walker, a multi-award winning director and choreographer as well as on the faculty of the Broadway Dance Center. And, of course, there was the Carolina Snowbelles’ “On Broadway.” Every performance for the full seven hours received enthusiastic applause from the massive audience composed not just of the dancers’ friends and families, but surprised visitors and passers by alike.
All in all, there were nearly 100 performances in the six- to seven-hour dance concert.
The Project Dance Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission of providing training, networking, education and performing opportunities for dancers worldwide. The Foundation seeks to make dance accessible to the public through outdoor/open air performances in prominent urban locations such as New York City, London, Sydney, Hong Kong and Washington DC.
“These concerts bring hope and healing to humanity and offer a positive message to those who attend,” said Cutlip as she addressed the gathered throng at 44th and Broadway. “Dancers around the world gather to encourage and support one another through training, networking and performing. Our goal is to see every dancer nurtured to their fullest human potential, and by doing so, to realize a more positive and redemptive culture of dance and entertainment for the future generations.”
For those who truly watched and listened to the dance performances and the music wrapped around them, there were emotional, spiritual, energy-charged and fun audience experiences.
BONUS RANDOM PHOTOS
Photographic image by David Rogers