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Express yourself: Dance studio holds second open house and fundraiser
Whether daring, fun or controversial, studio holds art above all
As the de facto leader of the daring fire-dancers, Valentine and his companions use everything from elaborate costumes to flame-tipped fans, chains and staves — combined with carefully rehearsed dance steps — to create a dazzling display of skill, artistry and fearlessness for their audience.
"I like to play with my toys — I like fire — it really gives me energy for my dance," Valentine said, explaining how, after discovering his love for fire at the age of nine – and nearly burning down his grandparents' barn in the process – he decided to find a more constructive outlet for his expression.
"Fire-spinners are very freedom-loving creatures, and they tend to balk at any sort of direction or choreography," he said. "My expression comes in being able to work with these very free-spirits and make something more than just a random crowd of people playing with fire. We come together and create art together."
And in as diverse and artistically minded a city as Takoma Park, Valentine and his group are not alone. Dance Afire is just one of the many dance groups working out of the Contradiction Dance Studio on Westmoreland Avenue in Old Town Takoma Park. The studio, which held its second annual open house and fundraiser casino night Saturday, also boasts a bevy of belly and hoop dancers and dance instruction ranging in everything from ballet to hip-hop.
At the open house, attendees were invited to sample hands-on lessons of the classes offered at the studio.
Many of the studio's instructors, and even a handful of students, including Emma Herbert, were present to guide the public through the many activities. Herbert, 17, dances in Massive Attack, the contemporary dance group of studio director Kelly Mayfield.
"I used to feel like there was nothing I could carry with me to prove that I'm a dancer," she said. "[Eventually] I realized, it's me; it's my body, and I can make art with it, and it's really the most beautiful art, because it's just me using what I have naturally."
The event also featured performances by established professionals, including an interpretive dance by Mayfield and other instructors criticizing the treatment of the homeless in nearby Washington, D.C.
The dance, from a production called "Objects of Hope," has received both harsh criticism and effusive praise from audiences for a segment, which Mayfield and others performed at the adults-only casino night Saturday, featuring the American flag.
In the show, the dancers wear all white and roll across a canvas spread over the floor, smearing themselves with red and blue paint. Mayfield, acting the part of a homeless person, was eventually draped in the American flag and stepped over and dismissed by her fellow dancers, who were playing passersby.
"I hope we will spark a dialogue [with this piece]," Mayfield said. "That's what art is all about; I put this out there in front of you and other audiences because I don't have the answer [to homelessness]. Hopefully through sparking enough dialogue, I can find an answer. Maybe we all can."