By DIVYA KUMAR
Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Three women in sequined dresses stepped into the center of the Tropical Courtyard of the Florida Botanical Gardens, where a small crowd had gathered on a cool evening. Within moments, the foliage was jolted to life, as a choreographed performance unfolded.
The first in the three-event series, "Our Trail: Performances on the Pinellas Trail," a project of New Music Conflagration, Dance Linkages and the St. Pete Dance Alliance, featured the work of three local choreographers.
Curated by Andee Scott, a dance professor at the University of South Florida, the project was created through a Stretch Grant awarded by Creative Pinellas in an attempt to bring dance to new spaces.
"Stretch Grants are given to organizations looking to go beyond their usual audiences and try something new," said Christopher Hubbard, programs manager for Creative Pinellas. "(For the first performance) we were bringing folks back to Pinewood and reinvigorating arts and culture on this campus."
The series features live dance performances across the Pinellas Trail. Last year, Scott produced a moving dance tour of St. Petersburg with seven pop-up dance sites as a part of the SPF Festival.
To Scott, the performances are a way to make dance more accessible.
"One of my biggest goals is to normalize dance," she said. "I want it to be something we all have access to, not something rarified to be only seen in a studio or theater. We're in our bodies. Dance gives us a chance to connect with people in a different, physical way. It's a different way of knowing and understanding."
Helen Hansen French, of Rogue Dance company, choreographed and performed in a theatrical piece featuring a cappella vocalists and expressive performers. The performance was a chance to expand the traditional definitions of what dance is, she said.
"If we can't get people out to theaters, then we got to take it out to them," she said. "If you take it and put it in a non-threatening setting, then maybe people will be more likely to buy a ticket and see a dance show somewhere."
Dance, she said, has an important place in the region.
"We have such a powerful art scene and I want people to know dance is a legitimate part of that conversation," she said.
"The idea of taking dance out of usual places, it's a way to connect with the community," Elsa Valbuena, a dancer who performed in one of Scott's pieces. "It's a different connection you have, with the trees, the air, the ground."
Contact Divya Kumar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @divyadivyadivya.