by Jillian Netherland | photography provided by Bates Dance Festival

A celebration of culture and the arts for more than 40 years, the Bates Dance Festival enthusiastically prepares to welcome the world to Lewiston this summer.


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Utilitarian roots grow to global celebration

It all began in 1982 when Marcy Plavin, Professor of Dance Emeritus at Bates College, was approached by then President of Bates, Hedley Reynolds. Reynolds tasked Plavin with establishing a dance festival on campus as a way to use the vacant facilities during the summer months. This preliminary vision quickly grew into something much larger, as students of all ages and abilities found a safe place to dance within Bates.

Commencing its inaugural season in 1983 with 70 students, the 2023 Bates Dance Festival anticipates more than 300 people to visit the campus throughout the festival’s duration. Scheduled to begin June 29th and conclude July 29th, the festival is comprised of three parts: adult training programs, the youth arts program, and the highly anticipated annual performances that attract attendees from all over the United States, as well as internationally.

“We really want to honor the legacy the festival has built over the years while also expanding and inviting artists that haven’t been here before,” explains Director, Shoni Currier. “Our goal is to keep inviting people in – including companies with very different dance backgrounds utilizing innovation and technology – so we can showcase as many different sides of the dance field as possible.”


Expansion and inclusivity

Throughout the festival’s performances, the team remains committed to elevating all voices in dance, particularly emphasizing forms not typically seen on the concert stage, such as hip hop and street dance. This year, the festival will be highlighting jazz and the history of black social dance.

Another mission of the Bates Dance Festival team is creating an atmosphere where everyone in the community can feel comfortable not only visiting the theatre but spending time on the Bates campus as a whole. Due to the theatre’s small lobby, festival guests in years past would typically leave once the show ended; however, Currier and her team have worked to provide more opportunities for gathering after the shows have ended.

“We’ve started hosting beer gardens on Friday nights for the audience to stick around, discuss the show, and meet the artists,” Currier shares. “We lead a toast, and it’s become a nice way to celebrate the artists and be together directly following the performance.”

Born out of the pandemic, something unique to the Bates Dance Festival’s spirit of inclusivity is their “pay what you wish” approach in place of traditional ticket pricing. Guests have the choice of paying a minimum of $5 up through a maximum of $25 per ticket. This method opens access to anyone wishing to attend, without having to prove senior citizen or student status to receive a discounted ticket price.

“We have a show coming to the festival that was $75 per ticket in Boston, but can be purchased here for just $5,” states Currier. “It’s incredibly meaningful and important to the community – not everyone here can pay the standard prices but should still be able to access the arts.”


Exploring Lewiston culture

In addition to making the arts accessible to the Lewiston Auburn community, the Bates Dance Festival is providing a great economic impact in cultural tourism. While the festival attracts more than 300 performers, musicians, instructors, students, and guests from all around the globe, these individuals become community residents during their three to six weeks on the Bates College campus.

“Any time someone visits, they’re going to go somewhere to eat, stay in a hotel, get a cocktail, and it’s all directly impacting the local economy in a positive way,” says Currier. “Lewiston is primed with so many incredible cultural aspects from LA Arts to the Dance Festival and Balloon Festival – these anchor events are all bringing tourism to the area, which is absolutely what we want to see.”

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The Jazz Continuum showstopper

From the last few years of hosting smaller festivals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to last year’s extravagant 40th anniversary celebration, the 2023 Bates Dance Festival looks forward to returning to some normalcy while sharing the love of performing arts throughout the LA community and beyond. Guests can enjoy four different performances in Schaeffer Theatre, each described as “a world unto themselves”, showcasing deeply researched and rehearsed work, including the Jazz Continuum.

Performed by an all-Black, intergenerational cast of dancers and musicians, each performer investigates their personal relationship to jazz through a celebration of community and collaboration. The Jazz Continuum will explore the ways in which jazz ties into the dance styles of today, such as hip-hop and house. Led by renowned choreographer, Kyle Abraham, the performance is a love story and celebration of friendship and the ways we interact with one another.


Not just for the professionals

Although the performances are arguably the largest festival attraction, they are only one facet of what the festival has to offer. The youth arts program is a yearly camp held for students ages six through 17. Divided into three age groups, students from all over the world are accepted on a rolling basis to study dance, theatre, visual arts, and music on the Bates campus for two to three weeks during the festival. The training program held during the festival is run similarly to the youth arts program, but is instead geared towards adults, offering drop-in classes with the option to participate for one, two, or all three weeks.

Another exciting addition to the 2023 festival is the return of Concerts on the Quad, a free concert series on the Bates campus.

“The series provides a lesson in social dance form and the opportunity to dance to live music,” Currier explains. “It’s another way to engage with the festival, providing the space to get up and move your feet, instead of just sitting in seats and watching the professionals.”

For those spending their summer in LA, the ask of the Bates Dance Festival team is simple: check it out, and if you like it, bring your family and friends.

“We really want to meet people where they are and make it possible for anyone to enjoy the festival,” shares Currier. “Whether you are a highly skilled technical dancer, or someone wanting to move your feet and drink a beer, we have something for you here.”


Bates Dance Festival
Lewiston |