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A dance festival celebrating humanity and inclusivity is coming to Harvard Square

Xuchipilli Mexican Folkloric Ballet
Xuchipilli Mexican Folkloric BalletMichael Basu

With four outdoor stages showcasing everything from ballet and folk to African, Indian, and Irish dance, the Dance for World Community Festival September 25 in Harvard Square serves as an unofficial kick-off celebrating — fingers crossed— the return to a full season of live dance. “We’re kind of ushering in the fall as a new beginning,” says José Mateo, whose José Mateo Ballet Theatre presents the festival, celebrating its 12th iteration, after being suspended last year because of COVID.

“The title of the festival this year is ‘Re-Emergence,’ [reflecting] the idea of coming out of this darker period of the past months more enlightened,” Mateo says. “I hope people will be less judgmental, more open-minded… more sensitive to the social dynamics we live in. “If we’re ever to achieve world community in this global environment, which we think is possible, we realize we have to be inclusive, to invite diversity — building community by representing the community.”

The festival, running from noon-6 p.m., is centered around José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s home base at 1151 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, and stretches down the street between Putnam Avenue and Bow Street. Mateo and his supporting partners (including Cambridge Arts Council, Harvard Square Business Association, and New England Blacks in Philanthropy) expect more than 70 participating dance troupes from around the Greater Boston area — among them SambaViva, City Ballet of Boston, Boston Scottish Country Dancers, Iranian Performing Arts Inc., Laura Sanchez Flamenco Co, Off Beat Tap Company, Urbanity Dance.


In addition to performances, the free event includes introductory dance classes in a wide array of movement styles, and food and crafts vendors. A Parking Lot Dance Party with live music from 6-8 p.m. will cap off the day’s activities. “It’s a way of inviting the community to recognize dance as a social activity that can bring us together and connect,” says Mateo.


Longtime participant Shaumba-Yandje Dibinga, the founding artistic director of OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center in Jamaica Plain, says the family-friendly event is almost like a smaller dance-centric version of First Night. The day, is filled with “music, kindness — all ages, all ethnicities, and all the dance you could possibly imagine,” she says. “It’s for everyone. We live in a world that is upside down in so many ways, and the arts bring people together in such a beautiful and powerful way. ”

The day’s core mission is to showcase how dance can be a connective power for positive change. Mateo hopes the festival provides a platform to usher in a new era of heightened awareness and activism around social, environmental, and artistic concerns. He sees it as a way of using the universal language of dance to bring people together in civic dialogue, and a variety of non-profits will be on hand with exhibits and information along the festival’s “Advocacy Way.” “The festival has always been based on the idea that dance could contribute to community building and expressing through advocacy some solidarity around human values, human rights and social justice,” he says.

This year’s event focuses on climate change and environmental justice, a theme that resonates with more urgency now than ever before. Jason Weeks, the executive director of the Cambridge Arts Council and a member of the festival’s original organizing committee, says climate justice was on Mateo’s radar from the early days, though it took a while to catch on. “I can remember when José first started talking about climate justice in the context of a dance festival and as an organizing principle for the event,” he says. “For many, the initial response was something of a blank stare. It took some time to normalize the understanding that an arts event could both celebrate artistic practice while also promoting dialogue [and] civic engagement.” Now, Weeks says, “… audiences and participants get it and appreciate and genuinely look to the festival for its ability to lift up and move the dial.”


Mateo adds, “I think artists today have a greater sense that they can bring something meaningful to all the conversations and political decision-making. … We’re living at a time when no one can afford to ignore the social and environmental issues we face.”


Sept. 25, noon-8 p.m., free, Harvard Square


Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.