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The average Joe and Josie Washingtonian don’t know much about dance, whether it’s contemporary, ballet, flamenco, or whatever. That’s pretty obvious. But the way to keep them clueless, according to Dance/MetroDC director Peter DiMuro, is to keep playing to the same insiders over and over.

DiMuro is anything but strident. Still, in the two years he’s spent at the service organization’s helm, he’s tried to shake things up a bit. You could say the Metro DC Dance Awards ceremony, occurring tonight, is a symbol of his efforts. A celebration of the year’s best performers and performances, as chosen by a 15-member selection committee, the event is also an annual meet-and-greet drawing together Washington’s dance community—a.k.a. the area’s dancers, choreographers, teachers, and critics.

In the past, said DiMuro, “the awards had felt internal to the dance community. We were bringing the previous year’s winners to perform [at the show], but it didn’t always make for the best dance.” So last year, he opened things up a bit, adding the DC Cowboys to the agenda and loosening up a vibe that can tend toward stuffy. This year, for the ceremony’s 10th anniversary, more changes are afoot. DiMuro’s moved the event from the Kennedy Center to Harman Hall, and he’s bringing in bigger names to present the evening’s awards: Susan Shields, a George Mason professor who used to dance with Baryshnikov; Patrick Corbin, a former Paul Taylor dancer who now works with CityDance Ensemble; and Liz Lerman, a MacArthur grant winner and the director of one of the city’s few nationally known companies.

Finally, Dimuro has thought clearly which performances to feature and how they complement each other. Mixing too many styles, he said, “does the art a disservice. It doesn’t unfold—it’s a mishmash.” Performances will include pieces choreographed by Mark Morris, Liz Lerman, and George Balanchine (performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet).

So audience members at tonight’s awards ceremony can expect an evening of presenters and performances that ebbs and flows as any good show should. And there’s no reason that shouldn’t please those who’ve made dance the center of their lives—as well as those who just want to see some great movement onstage.

Photo by Carol Pratt