Young dancers will flood Pittsburgh to learn, and to perform. | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Young dancers will flood Pittsburgh to learn, and to perform.

They're young, they're talented and they'll be invading Downtown Pittsburgh in droves. They are the nearly 2,000 participants in Regional Dance America's 2007 National Festival. For five days starting April 24, some of the nation's most talented young dancers will immerse themselves in master classes, rehearsals and nightly performances to celebrate RDA's 50th anniversary.

RDA, among the nation's most prestigious organizations for young dancers, was founded in 1956 (as the National Association of Regional Ballet) to elevate the standard of regional dance to the national level. Besides its Craft of Choreography Conferences, and educational efforts, the group holds annual festivals in five geographic regions.

The Pittsburgh event -- only the second national festival in RDA history -- took six years of planning, says RDA President Gretchen Vogelzang. "We are an all-volunteer organization and bringing together our 90-plus member companies for a national festival is a huge undertaking and represents a large financial risk." Vogelzang estimates the festival will cost upward of $750,000, of which most must be recouped from participant fees.

Like the group's annual regional festivals, the national event will focus on training and education, with a dense slate of master classes in ballet, modern and jazz. The classes will be held at Downtown venues from The David L. Lawrence Convention Center to Point Park University, and will be taught by some of the world's leading dance instructors.

"The number of young people who are getting high-quality training from RDA cannot be taken for granted," says Virginia Johnson, editor-in-chief of Pointe Magazine and an instructor at the festival.

Beneficiaries of RDA training include 22-year-old Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps de ballet member Elysa Hotchkiss. "The festivals gave me the opportunity to experience other teachers beyond those who taught at my school in Erie," says Hotchkiss. "I also got to see how I stacked up against my peers and with choreographers, which I feel helped prepare me for a professional career."

While the festival's focus is on education, the highlight for many will be the five evenings of jam-packed public performances at the Benedum Center, nightly featuring 16 to18 dance companies from around the country.

A training ground for young dancers, many of whom will populate dance companies worldwide, RDA's 2007 National Festival is sure to leave a lasting impression on its participants, its audiences, and the city.

Regional Dance America's 2007 National Festival Performance Showcases 7 p.m. nightly Tue., April 24-Sat., April 28. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $22.50-52.50. 412-456-6666 or

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