From The Director

Dance on film is nothing new, but it’s a growing genre. During the pandemic, more and more dance artists have turned to film as a way to express themselves at a time when they couldn’t perform on stage, and to satisfy dance lovers who were missing live performances. With the ever-changing protocols for presenting in-person events during a pandemic, it became clear that World Arts West should produce the 2021 Festival on film, and while we miss presenting live performances this year, I’m excited for this long-standing Festival to be able to explore a new genre.

In some ways, film provides more accessibility and opportunity than live performance; people can watch our film anywhere in the world. Film also allows the viewer to see the dances differently, and to take in details they might miss in a stage performance.

The artists who were selected for the film had either not been in the Festival before, or hadn’t been for a long time. We were also mindful of what dance forms might translate best to film. The locations for each of the dance pieces were chosen very purposefully. Being able to film in specific environments allowed us to put the dances back into the context of where they came from originally.

To honor what each of the artists brings to their piece, the editing process had to match the rhythm of each one, so I had a continuing conversation with the artists throughout the filming and editing process. It has been exciting for me to be able to introduce some of the artists to a format they hadn’t had the opportunity to explore previously. There is a difference between what can be presented on stage, which is linear, and a film, which can encompass the dance and also highlight different aspects of the dancers themselves.

Currently, there is a lack of representation of ethnic dance in the film genre. Although there is a great value to being able to see a live performance, I would like to continue seeing films that present dances such as the ones in our film as a way to promote representation, equity, and documentation of previous and future Ethnic Dance Festival artists.

Sonia D. Pina

From The Artistic Directors

So many grand ideas were on the table when we Artistic Directors met early in 2020 to design the 42nd annual Festival for that year. 2020 was such an enticing number to plan around – so symmetrical and balanced. Little could any of us have imagined the chaos that was rapidly approaching the entire planet at that time. Like so many other institutions, we were forced to go dark that season.

The interesting thing about darkness is that we simply have to pass through it, just as a planted seed pushes towards the light, trusting that we will, in fact, get to the other side. The quiet time we have all endured also helped us to understand that we have had to let go of some things; expectations and plans, so that we could then grow into a new and better version of ourselves.

That is what this Festival season represents for me this year. Responding as best as we could to the challenges we were presented has given birth to a film featuring some of the best of what our beloved Bay Area has to offer. The 2021 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival can now be shared online wherever lovers of movement and song are found throughout the planet, this pale blue dot that we call home. This film, and the renowned artists it features, celebrates who we are in all our uniqueness, our strength, and most profoundly, our joy.

Māhealani Uchiyama

The phrase “Things happen for a reason” may seem harsh when uttered amidst a series of seismic events – a pandemic, international racial reckoning, global warming triggered catastrophes, etc. Other phrases, such as “Play the hand one is dealt” and “Seize the day” may fall hard as well. The events of 2020 cracked wide open and laid bare numerous social maladies worldwide. But those same fissures created lanes of opportunity to implement positive change.

The 2021 Festival to me is the manifestation of our team’s hard work in seizing the opportunity amidst the chaos of 2020 to implement long awaited visions of varying Festival presentation styles/formats and much-requested community engagement offerings.

I am so appreciative of this year’s Festival artists for their hard work in creating beautiful pieces that uplift and bring light to our humanity during these continued challenging times. Without artists dedicated to their cultural forms, the Ethnic Dance Festival would not exist, no matter the social climate.

Latanya d. Tigner

Māhealani Uchiyama

Māhealani Uchiyama is an award-winning dancer, musician, composer, choreographer, recording artist, author and teacher. An advocate for cultural understanding, she is the founder and Artistic Director of the Māhea Uchiyama Center for International Dance in Berkeley and is Kumu Hula of Hālau Ka Ua Tuahine. Ms. Uchiyama is also the creator and director of the annual Kāpili Polynesian Dance and Music Workshops. She holds a BA in Dance Ethnology and an MA in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi. In addition to her hula and Tahitian dance training, she has performed professionally in the genres of Caribbean and North African dance. As Kumu Hula, she has led numerous performance tours to Tahiti, New Zealand and the islands of Hawaiʻi, and has taught workshops throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada. She has been an instructor of Hawaiian Language at Stanford University, contributed a chapter on the hula for the publication Dancing on the Earth and authored the Haumāna Hula Handbook for Students of Hawaiian Dance (published by North Atlantic Books / Penguin Random House.) Her CD A Walk by the Sea was awarded the 2007 Hawaiʻi Music Award for Best World Music Album. She is the 2009 recipient of the Aloha Spirit Award and has been presented the 2015 Ke Kanaka Poʻokela (The Person of Distinction) Award by the Berkeley Hawaiian Music Festival. She has also served on the panel of dance experts for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and the Tahiti Fete of San Jose and Hilo. Ms. Uchiyama is the former President of the Board of Directors of World Arts West, the producers of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.

Latanya d. Tigner

Latanya d. Tigner has performed professionally with Dimensions Dance Theater within multidisciplinary works rooted in African diasporic dance forms since 1986. She holds a B.A. in Physical Education/Dance and a Master’s in Arts Administration. She directs Dimensions Dance Theater’s youth company and lectures at University of California, Berkeley and Mills College. In her 30 plus-year dance career, Latanya has created commissioned works for Dimensions Dance Theater, Black Choreographers Festival, Robert Moses’ Kin, UC Berkeley, Mills College, and has presented work in SF Ethnic Dance Festival, CubaCaribe, and Mabina Dance Festival (Congo-Brazzaville). She has also set choreography for Cal Shakes’ black odyssey, SF Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, Ubuntu Theater’s Dance of the Holy Ghost, Delina Brooks’ An Open Love Letter to Black Fathers, Contra Costa College’s In the Blood, For Colored Girls, and Godspell, and Li Smith’s Victorious. Additionally, Latanya serves as Co-Artistic Director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival for the 2018–2021 seasons, and is a founding member of Oakland Anti-Racism Organizing Committee. Latanya has ongoing research on African dance retentions in African American social dance, which has led to the creation of Dancing Cy(i)phers, an annual symposium that connects the coded languages of African rooted dance.

Festival Film Production Team

Sonia D. Pina

Sonia D. Pina (she/her) is the Program and Production Manager for World Arts West, producers of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Whether it is on a stage or a film set, as both a Producer and Director, Sonia strives to create the best possible environment for artists to showcase their work. As a graduate of Ex’pression College with a Bachelors of Applied Science degree in Sound Arts, she began her professional career as an Audio Engineer, and quickly grew her skills to work as a Stage Manager, Film Director, and Event Producer.

In addition to her role at World Arts West, Sonia has produced the CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music, is the co-founder of MIJIS Productions, a media company producing creative works with artists from around the world, and has been part of the SFJAZZ and Brava Theater teams. Sonia, is the Musical Director for Batala San Francisco, and a dancer with Māhealani Uchiyama’s Hālau KaUa Tuahine.

Diana Cordero

Diana Cordero is the Director of Photography of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival’s film iteration. Born and raised in Zacatecas, Mexico, Diana began nurturing her interest in photography and cinematography at an early age, culminating her studies with an MFA in Cinematography at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University.

Diana is the co-founder of Mijis Productions, as well as a freelance videographer, photographer. editor and colorist based in San Francisco.

Nikita Kadam Sekhon

Nikita Kadam Sekhon (she/her) is a stage manager and, occasionally, a production manager if you ask her nicely. She started her mission to organize art at UC Berkeley, where she graduated with a degree in theatre and performance studies in 2014. She has worked on over 25 different major theatre and dance productions around the Bay Area. Nikita began working with the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival in 2016 as part of the stage management team and has enjoyed every minute. This year, she filled a new role, First Assistant Director in the Festival Film. In addition to her arts work, she serves as Supervisor of Year-Round Youth Programs for UC Berkeley.

Aaron Sencil

Aaron Sencil has been involved with the festival in some shape or form for the past 20 years. His background includes graphic design, theater and costuming. He was the youngest artistic director at age 16, when his Tahitian dance company “Hui Tama Nui” opened the 2001 Festival. His company has been known to bring innovation, modern situations and stunning costumes and visuals with the foundation of traditional Tahitian dance. His company has won numerous top honor awards in the Tahitian dance scene, and was nominated for two Izzy Awards.

Today, Aaron continues his love for Polynesian culture by sharing his knowledge as an advisor and designer for many Tahitian dance companies. He also has a bigger focus on community, with his infamous holiday resident display “VnA’s Gingy House”. He has now come full circle as production designer for the festival, and is looking forward to make magic for the festival when it returns in person.

Dudley Flores

Born and raised in San Francisco, Dudley Flores (he/him) is the Production Associate for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. He’s worked with the Festival since Fall 2017. After studying biology at USF and a brief stint as a passenger service agent with American Airlines, Dudley found his passion in dance. He’s performed on stage, television, film and for fashion, and was a company member of Garrett+Moulton Productions, Robert Moses’ KIN, the Printz Dance Project and ODC/Dance. He’s a choreographer, collaborator and producer for large community dance events for Bay Area Dance Week, SF Pride and Carnaval San Francisco, and is currently the Director and faculty member of the Rhythm & Motion Dance Program.

Additional Film Crew

Lead Camera Operator – Juli Lopez
Camera Operator & Gaffer – Francisco Puentes
Film Editor – Diana Cordero
Production Assistants – Emilio Torres and Javier Stell-Frésquez
COVID Safety Officer – Coco Duhon-Kelley
Audio Recording Engineers – Mary Ann Zahorsky and Matt Stines
Audio Mixing and Mastering – Ana Sophia Dunham and Matt Stines

Jikelele Dance Theater / Photo: RJ Muna. All other photos by Diana Cordero and Juli Lopez.

Festival History

The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival was the first city-sponsored multicultural dance festival in the United States, and since 1978, the Festival has featured more than 600 dance groups, 26,000 local artists, and 100 world cultures. The Festival has grown from performances in local community centers to some of the grandest stages in the Bay Area, as well as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Started in 1978 by San Francisco’s Hotel Tax Fund, a municipal agency now called Grants for the Arts, the goal was to “preserve the cultural heritage of the city and enhance San Francisco’s reputation as a center for the arts.” The Festival’s founders felt that, rather than giving many ethnic dance groups performing in the city a small grant, it could be more effective if those funds were combined and allocated towards providing the much-needed service of presenting the dancers and musicians on a good stage, hiring the production crew, and doing all of the labor-intensive marketing and front-of-house work. As the Festival grew over the years, amid critical and audience acclaim, the Festival was presented in iconic venues such as Palace of Fine Arts, the War Memorial Opera House, and the Zellerbach Hall.

The greatest legacy of this work is the impact that the Festival has had on the lives of the participating artists. The Festival has provided unprecedented opportunities for local dancers to be presented in large scale, highly professional settings, supported by a seasoned production and marketing team. By participating in the Festival, the artists have a rare opportunity to create complex, multi-layered, high caliber artistic work that cannot be presented on smaller stages. The Festival also provides opportunities for artists to connect with other artists outside their own cultures, which has led to many innovative collaborations.

The New York Times has called our Festival “a glorious achievement…one of the finest of all American dreams: a setting where cultures can celebrate their own traditions while honoring and applauding others.” Now in our fifth decade, we are excited about supporting our extraordinary community of artists and culture bearers to honor our collective heritage, forging new artistic territories, and creating a lasting legacy for the future.

In addition to the annual Festival and other events throughout the City (such as the Rotunda Dance Series), we support Festival artists by providing fiscal sponsorship, letters of support, videos and photos for their marketing needs and grant applications, artist referrals, production advice, artist resource newsletters, and other forms of capacity building support. We are steadily growing our Artist Service Program, in order to provide comprehensive tools for our beloved cultural artists to thrive.

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The mission of World Arts West is to support local artists sustaining diverse world dance and music traditions by providing needed services and performance opportunities, while deepening the public's support of and engagement with these inspiring culture bearers.