Supported and sponsored by the Union City Board of Education, Mayor Brian P. Stack & Commissioners, Dance NJ, the Hudson County Alliance of Teen Artists, and on behalf of the New Jersey High School Dance Fest Committee; The New Jersey High School Dance Fest is the first festival exclusively meant for NJ High School Dance Programs.
This year’s festival will take place on Saturday, March 14 at Union City High School. Founding the Festival Union City High School founded the New Jersey High School Dance Fest in the spring of 2013, with the high school’s dance educator, Mrs. Cristen Pennello as director and coordinator. Recognizing the lack of festivals present in New Jersey for the high school dance programs, Mrs. Pennello sought to create one. The thought behind it was to offer the students performance opportunities, a chance to take class with Professionals in the field, and also present a closing Gala in which the top dance companies in the state perform for them. In addition to those things, the festival has since provided scholarship opportunities for summer dance intensives at both universities as well as with many of these professional companies.
The festival also hosts a professional development workshop intended for the visiting schools educators. The inception of this festival would not have been possible if not for the support of the Superintendent Mrs. Silvia Abbato, the Board of Education, as well as the District FAPA Supervisor, Ms. Mirtha Serret and Mr. John Benneti. Mr. Bennetti was the high school Principal at the time, and is now one of Union City’s Assistant Superintendents.
Making Connections The festival is going on its eighth year, and has continued to transform over time. Last year Union City High School provided a ‘Meet & Greet’ Lunch for all visiting students. The goal was to create a space for all of the students from across the state to mingle as a community. After lunch, a ‘Dance Off’ broke out and they were all cheering one another on! It was absolutely incredible and we will be offering this again this year. This year’s festival will have a special Cross-Cultural addition. Andrea Kramer, director of Ballet Forte in Chester, NJ is working with Coqui Charities as well as Montclair State University's Dance Division to invite high school students who wish to pursue dance as a profession from Puerto Rico to spend “a week in the life” of a BFA dance major at Montclair State University. Five high school-aged dancers from Puerto Rico will be selected by audition and paired with a Junior or Senior BFA dance major from MSU as a mentor-mentee relationship. In addition, they have been invited to attend this year’s NJHS Dance Fest and participate in all of the events, and they will also be preparing for a collaborative performance to take place in Puerto Rico on March 21st.