PUBLISHED: 4:08 PM on Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Juneau Dancefest swings all weekend long
If you ever wanted to learn how to "shake" it the right way while perfecting your Cha Cha, Tango or Country Two-Step, now is your chance at the second annual Dancefest in Juneau. Guest instructors from around the world including local favorites will educate and entertain with their talents. The fun-filled weekend begins Aug. 31 through Sept. 3 at Centennial Hall. Events include dance classes and live music with dance performances.

The brainchild for Dancefest is coordinator Heather Haugland, who said she's had the idea for several years.

Courtesy photo
  Instructor Antonio Diaz, of Juneau dances with local Karen Carillo during the first Dancefest in Sept. 2006. This year's Dancefest is Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at Centennial Hall. For more information visit
"I thought wouldn't it be great if we could have a whole weekend of dance," Haugland said.

" I proposed the idea to my friend Tim Adair, who organizes the monthly ballroom dances at Centennial Hall and he thought it would be a great idea," she said.

A successful turnout last year, they had 1,000 attendances, counting students in every class and dance.

This year, a hot highlight is guest dance band Havana NRG, an eight-piece Dallas-based Cuban orchestra known for its "blistering salsa, tangy merengue, and soulful cha-cha-chas," sources said. Gaining nationwide and international attention, the band has played in New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, and San Francisco.

Instructors include Pablo and Alicia Repun, originally from Buenos Aires, who are on their fourth Alaska tour. Since 1993, Pablo has taught Argentine tango dance and also dances professionally around the world. He runs his own studio In Naples, Florida and teaches group classes at Miami Dade Community College.

Ekaterina (Katya) Kuznetsova, originally from Magadan, Russia, who is currently a faculty member at the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Theatre and Dance, and founder of Ritmovida Dance Partnership, which focuses on instruction, choreography and performance in various forms of Latin dance.

She says she has always danced, and at the age of eight started training in a professional ballroom dance school in Magadan, Russia. At 11, she visited Anchorage on a performance tour, and since then has been traveling back and forth between Russia and Alaska.

Kuznetsova says she hopes people will have a fun time in her class.

"I am sure that all of us will discover some new skills and ideas. More importantly, we will learn about each other and about the wealth of dance opportunities we have to offer each other right here in Alaska," she said.

"Dance changes my life in many ways, every day. It is truly a joy to be a part of the dance community in our state. We are a dancing family," Kuznetsova said.

Other visiting instructor's are professional ballroom dancer Rachel Lidskog, of Portland, Ore. and professional Cuban dancer Felix Bambury Webbe, a native of Guantanamo, Cuba.

Courtesy photo
  Local John Hickey dances with visiting Argentine Tango instructor Alicia Masforroll during the Dancefest '06.
Local instructors include Bruce Botelho, who regularly teaches folkdance in the schools and to recreational folkdances, and has served as president of Juneau International Folkdances and artistic director of the Juneau Folk Ensemble.

With a country flavor, instructors Don and Vickie Carney say their style is more "barroom" than "ballroom," according to the Juneau Dancefest's Web site.

Their cool moves include accredited dance steps such as the East Coast Swing, Traveling Waltz, Country Two Step, Cowboy Cha Cha, Line Dances and more.

They give private lessons in their studio as well as group lessons for special occasions.

Heather Haugland and Antonio Diaz will be teaching students as well. Together, they have been sharing the secrets to salsa in Juneau and around the Southeast since 2002. Diaz is also member of Salsa Borealis, a Latin band heating up the dance floors with traditional and contemporary repertoire ranging from jazzy Bossa Novas of Brazil to classic 1950s big-band Mambos from Cuba.

They teach weekly classes at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels, and have taught workshops in Sitka, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Haines. Along with their dance group Rumbalaska, they also perform at numerous special events.

Part of the local talented line-up includes instructor Odette Foster, who has been teaching and calling contra dances for 20 years and is organizer of the New England Barn Dances, Thursday Night contras, the Alaska Folk Festival Coffee and Jam and Juneau's summer weekend Camp DAMP.

Other instructors include Dan and Lorinda Kassner, who have been dancing and teaching together for around 25 year, and at JRC/TAC for seven years. They specialize in a variety of dances including waltz, fox trot, east-coast swing and more.

Adding her innovative spin to Middle Eastern dance is instructor Samia Savell. Savell teaches community-oriented tribal style bellydance in Juneau, and helped form the local tribal fusion bellydance troupe, Patshiva.

Additional instructors bringing their unique flair is Middle Eastern dance instructor Maren Thomas with 10 years experience, and ballroom dancer Shane Wirtz who teaches at the University of Alaska Southeast and etiquette in Juneau's elementary schools.

"A lot of dancers have volunteered; (with) all these connections, I couldn't say 'no' to everyone," Haugland said.

Airplane tickets consisting of companion fares and mileage were donated, she said. Funding includes the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, Juneau Urgent Care, McDowell Group, El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant and more along with a major grant provided by the Alaska Folk Festival. The non-profit sponsor is the Juneau International Folkdancers.

Students can learn a myriad of techniques and styles, such as Lindy Hop, Bachata, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban and Tlingit. Last year the most popular class was Argentine Tango, she said.

"One cool thing we did was expand it to non-partner dance. We have a lot of dances for people who might not want to dance with a partner," Haugland said.

Another highlight this year will be the band and dance performers during the Friday and Saturday night events. Included in the ticket fee is a 30-minute dance lesson, then concert and dance performances.

"We do suggest people get their tickets to Havana NRG ahead of time," she said. They will perform Saturday, Sept. 1.; doors open at 8 p.m. with a no-host bar available.

On Friday, Aug. 31, the Bobb Family Band will perform with a swing lesson beginning at 8 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 1, Bravemonkey will perform with a nightclub Two-Step lesson beginning at 8 p.m., a public dance following.

"I think the festival gives locals a great opportunity to learn new dances and meet up with other people who love to dance. And, this year it's a cool opportunity for people around the state to unite. We have people coming from Nome, Anchorage, and friends coming from Sitka," Haugland said.

As visiting instructor Ekaterina Kuznetsova quotes her favorite Nietzsche line, "we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once."

Participants do not need to pre-register for Dancefest. Instructions are to show up five to 10 minutes before the class or dance and check in at the registration table. Pre-registration is available to weekend pass purchasers only. Individual classes are five dollars.

For ticket information and pre-registration form, visit