Every arts scene needs a ladder.

No matter how small it is, a community of aspiring creators and performers can’t develop unless there’s a variety of local venues that welcome new work by folks at different places in their careers, whether they’re amateurs, professionals, or folks at the murky in-between stage.

It’s easy to malign D.C.’s small, not-always-high-quality dance scene, but one of its strong points is the existence of a number of stages where performers at different levels of skill and experience can show their work and gradually improve.

This weekend offers a surprisingly good look at that ladder; the offerings can serve as a primer for how to gradually gain a foothold in the Washington area as a choreographer.

On Saturday night, Joy of Motion’s Jack Guidone Theater in Friendship Heights is hosting its Dance Project, a regular showcase that presents emerging Washington choreographers; it’s where a bunch of the area’s artistic directors first showed their work. This Saturday night’s performance is a little different from usual, though: It features all percussive pieces—that is, tap, step, and flamenco dance. “We wanted to keep the interest in tap alive,” explained Doug Yeuell, JOM’s executive and artistic director. The show is at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door.

That’s one of the first, ahem, steps. Up a notch is the Choreographers’ Showcase at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center. This is an annual event and one of the more prestigious venues for a local choreographer who’s got a piece to present. This weekend’s show features seven local dance and performance artists, including Adrienne Clancy, Ronya-Lee Anderson, and Heather Lundy. The show is Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; tickets are $25.

Going from the showcase structure, which only requires a three-minute piece, to a full evening-length production is a massive step for a choreographer, and there aren’t many in-between options. Still, one of the most supportive venues for newer choreographers is Joe’s Dance Emporium in Mount Rainier; the place has a low key vibe, a lot of fans, and attracts dance insiders who tend to be pretty forgiving. This weekend, newcomer Datjwan “Day-Marquette” Woodland presents “Perceptions Finagled: A Woodlands Dance Scheme,” featuring live music, singing, and poetry, as well as modern dance. The show is Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m.; tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Also on Saturday and Sunday, Alight Dance Theater is performing “Speechless” at Dance Place in Brookland. Alight, a young company founded by Angella Foster, was a beneficiary of the Kennedy Center’s Local Dance Commissioning Project this year; the initiative—a great way for newer groups to get some leverage—includes $7,500, in-progress feedback from the KenCen’s dance programmers, and a guaranteed second show at Dance Place. This weekend is that show. Performances are Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m., and tickets are $22.

But not every D.C. company is just getting its feet wet. Jane Franklin Dance has been around northern Virginia since 1997, and while the company still performs in less-than-traditional (ie, free) venues like art galleries, parks, and highway medians, founder Jane Franklin is finally at the point where she can regularly show her work in traditional theaters. Like this weekend: Catch the company’s “A Vivid Sense of Place” at Artisphere on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.; tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Photo of Jane Franklin Dance by Paul Gillis