Performing Arts

National Water Dance embraces hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

National Water Dance at Deering Estate in 2016.
National Water Dance at Deering Estate in 2016.

One of the signatures of the National Water Dance project since its inception seven years ago was that dance troupes, large or small, professional or school groups, were free to perform whatever choreography moved them with only a few stipulations: They would begin precisely at the same time in or next to a body of water; and, while they could do whatever choreography they imagined in the middle of the simultaneous performance, as a sign of solidarity they should begin with the exact same movement.

Miami's Dale Andree, National Water Dance originator and founder, began the site-specific initiative to raise awareness of ecological issues about the crisis surrounding water – its scarcity, contaminated quality, the impact of climate change on our very grounding – in Florida in 2011. In 2014, NWD went national in the continental U.S., and now the showcase, held every two years, has grown to include Puerto Rico and Canada.

This year's event takes place on Saturday when, exactly at 4:00 p.m. EST, more than 1,500 dancers from 40 states will dance in the name of water preservation, from the Brookline Reservoir in Brookline, Mass., to Crandon Park in Key Biscayne. And this year, in Cabo Rojo in Puerto Rico.

Andree puts out a call to action about six months before the event asking that all participants submit a short movement gesture for her to consider as the opening phase. She selects one, and posts it on the National Water Dance website, and then requests that everyone begins with the first gestural movement. By chance, Puerto Rican choreographer and performance artist Camille Imilse Arroyo's submission was selected.

"It was the most dynamic of them all – the way she was interpreting water was quite different from everyone else because it had this sharp, hard edge," Andree says.

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National Water Dance at Deering Estate in 2016. MIANA JUN

Arroyo, a choreographer who moved from Miami back to her native Puerto Rico in June 2016, said that the effects of Hurricane Irma and more devastatingly Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20 had a profound impact on how she approached creating her movement, and where and how she will dance on April 14.

Her company, Tercera Ola, is collaborating with Puerto Rico's MayaWest Dance Project for its water awareness performance at Faro de Los Morrillos lighthouse in Cabo Rajo, on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico.

"I chose this landmark as a symbolic representation of our journey, shedding light on various issues concerning water in Puerto Rico,” says Arroyo. "From here, you can see the coastline from the cliffs, and the erosion is so apparent."

The opening gesture she submitted did have its inspiration from the traumatic turbulence that the citizens of Puerto Rico have been through since the September storms. But it is also inspired by another natural upheaval that many Puerto Rican natives are familiar with — earthquake temblores or tremors.

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Water Dance at University of Hawaii. CHRISTINE MAXWELL

"Usually a movement for water is flowing, but mine is a little bit more of a hurricane," she said her creation. "I visualized a bowl of water that I saw during one of the temblores here, water rippling and spilling out, and it's that motion that my hands are mimicking." (Puerto Rico experiences small earthquakes daily that sometimes people cannot even feel. And because of what scientists have identified as the Puerto Rico Trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean, the island is vulnerable to tsunamis.)

Andree visited Puerto Rico as part of a new partnership this year with Pedestrian Wanderlust, a New York City dance program that began two years ago to document, via videos, dance in public places. The Wanderlust videos were to be posted and used as promotion to get people interested in the April Water Dance event. While plans were already in the works for Wanderlust founder Rami Shafi to create videos of dancers around the United States to help get the word out about NWD, Puerto Rico moved to the top of the list after hurricane Maria made it of primary importance. A private donation to NWD helped aid the support for the Wanderlust partnership, and for Andree and Shafi to head to Puerto Rico to create the videos.

"We have wonderful one-minute videos of Camille that we shot in Old San Juan, and of her and the MayaWest company at Crash Boat Beach, which was hit really hard," says Andree, of the beach located in the northwestern Puerto Rican municipality of Aguadilla.

What began in Miami seven years ago as what Andree calls a grass roots movement continues to grow in scope. "The Puerto Rico initiative and all of the dancers involved in this year's event are really expanding the conversation. It all speaks to what we are trying to do as dancers, to show that our expression lies in our bodies, and that we are reflective of our environment," Andree says.

If you go

  • What: Miami’s National Water Dance, including NWD Projects, Augusto Soledade Brazzdance, Dance Now! Miami, IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Company, Conchita Espinosa Academy, and the South Miami Middle Community School, with music by Brandon Cruz

  • When: Saturday, 4:00 p.m.

  • Where: Biscayne Nature Center, North Beach Entrance to Crandon Park, Key Biscayne

  • Info: