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It’s that time again: Washington residents’ best chance to see a broad sampling of the area’s dance offerings. Yes, Velocity DC is back for a third year, starting tonight and running through the weekend at Sidney Harman Hall.

Think of it as DC Dance 101. Modeled on a very successful New York initiative, Velocity DC aims to give audiences a low-investment, affordable taste of some of the area’s best choreographers and movers. In the past two seasons, just about all of the shows have sold out, which means its creators must be doing something right.

There are three different programs, each featuring a different mix of performances. Companies to watch for include Christopher K. Morgan & Artists, the new professional company affiliated with CityDance; Flamenco Aparicio, which wowed the crowd last year with the dancers’ drumming, fast-as-lightning feet; and The Washington Ballet, showing a section of its much-acclaimed ballet The Great Gatsby.

All good, and all pretty similar to last year. What’s new is an increased focus on free preshow activity throughout the building. Most intriguing are the site-specific shows that start 45 minutes before each formal, seated performance. Depending on the night, audience members may catch Daniel Burkholder and the Playground’s Primary/Scale: Green (pictured above), which involves five dancers, several square feet of sod, and a little bit of audience involvement. Or they’ll see Uprooted Dance in Just a Peek, a series of short vignettes that utilize Harman Hall’s giant glass windows.

And then there’s RAMP!, a set of pre-pre-show performances by young dancers and choreographers from throughout the region. RAMP! will precede all the evening shows, starting at 6:45. And according to Velocity DC organizer Peter di Muro, they’ll be informal enough that audience members will get a chance to mingle with the dancers and pick up on a little of that graceful, energetic vibe.

Velocity DC shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm, as well as Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. $18.

Photo by Don Atreides