Sara Bennett assayed the landscape of dance in the Holy City and felt it left something to be desired.

If you go

WHAT: Dance Block Party, a benefit for the Charleston Dance Festival.WHEN: 6-10 p.m. Friday.WHERE: Dancefx Charleston studio, 635 Rutledge Ave. downtown.TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at the gate. Purchase at Dancefx Studio or online at

Like a new festival, devoted solely to the art of dance.

“It felt like a natural step to take,” says Bennett, whose inaugural Charleston Dance Festival debuts Sept. 10-16 at Memminger Auditorium. “We have a festival for everything else in this town, so why not one that focuses on dance?”

Some might argue that apart from a group of successful dance schools and the national and international touring acts that perform here each year, dance has been in decline in Charleston relative to the other arts.

The effort was not helped by the passing of Robert Ivey and the Charleston Ballet Theatre’s troubles.

Bennett agrees.“I do think dance is in decline here and a huge part of what I want to do is build that back up,” says the former College of Charleston and Ivey Ballet dancer. “We have to start somewhere, and we have to start with what we have. The goal of this festival is to do precisely that. I think there is a lot of potential in our city and I believe this festival could be the starting point (of a revival).”

Block PartyFirst, Bennett wanted to herald the coming of the festival by choreographing a fundraiser.

Enter the Dance Block Party, which steps out Friday at Dancefx Charleston.

The event will feature performances by Home Spun Hoops, Annex Dance, Hot Jazz Dance Club, WO’SE Dance Theatre, the Charleston Dance Center, Dancefx’s Charleston Dance Project and Slow Jamz Hip-Hop Crew.

Live music will be provided by the V-Tones, with a DJ also on hand.

Introducing a fall festival has been a long quest for Bennett.

“I came to Charleston after having danced for four years at the Governor’s School Ballet Conservatory, with the goal a college degree. But (I) found I missed dancing. Once in college I found my passion was still dance.

“But while dancing at the college and with the Ivey Ballet, I felt like there was a disconnect in the community. There just wasn’t that much else offered to someone like me: someone in her early 20s, not necessarily a professional, but still a person who wanted to continue my education and be involved in the dance community.”

Bennett starting taking arts management classes and interned at the CBT. Soon, she discovered Dancefx and resumed dance classes.

“I was blown away by the people there,” she says. “They inspired me, and after meeting people in other dance organizations, it seemed like a great idea to create an open forum at a place where everyone could come together to improve the entire dance community, to create together and collaborate.”

Jenny Broe Price, executive director of Dancefx, thinks the promise embodied by a festival is considerable.

“I see an amazing potential for this festival to unite and integrate the local dance groups with internationally acclaimed instructors and companies for an artistic education beyond Charleston’s immediate reach,” she says.

“This weeklong festival is a necessary vehicle to provide an outlet and venue for such ambitious endeavors. And it will provide the Charleston community at large with an annual, local professional concert dance at an affordable ticket price.”

The groundworkBennett started laying the groundwork for what she hoped the festival might be, approaching some of the local professional groups and getting the word out. She already had gotten her feet wet, having served, as she continues to do, as programming director for the performing arts for the Jail Break series, a festival of the arts at the Old City Jail.

“Jail Break let me take my first couple of steps toward the idea of uniting the dance community in one performance and see if others would be responsive to performing multiple times together instead of independently,” says Bennett. “At Jail Break 2, we had four dance companies performing, and at Jail Break 3, we had eight.”

Presented by the Charleston Dance Alliance and Dancefx, the new festival is being designed by Bennett to appeal to dancers and nondancers alike, offering master class instruction across a full range of styles and movement, as well as lectures, improvs, demonstrations and performances by both professional and student dancers in the Charleston area.

Participating will be all the groups signed on for the Block Party, augmented by live musical accompaniment by the Entropy Ensemble.

Included in the master classes is a free day of instruction for students at the Charleston County School of the Arts and Wando High School.

“Both have very strong dance programs and we wanted to incorporate an educational outreach component into the festival,” says Bennett. “Building the caliber of dance here all starts with education.”

Eventually, she would like to see the festival connect with regional dance companies and expand.

“That would be great for networking, and for performances. The dance community has not been able to do this sort of collaborating in recent years. And this festival gives us an opportunity to reach out, collaborate and learn from each other.”

Reach Bill Thompson at 937-5707.