Dancers of all levels welcomed in “Le Grand Continental”

The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival is hosting a one-of-a-kind dance piece with a diverse cast in front of the Art Museum steps.

“5, 6, 7, 8,” chants Sylvain Émard, the choreographer for “Le Grand Continental,” a dance piece for the Live Arts Festival happening in early September. This half-hour long show will be performed by dancers ages 10 and up, of all skill levels, whether they’re professional dancers or beginners.

The show, which incorporates line dancing and contemporary dance, originally started in Montréal three years ago with only 60 amateur dancers, and has grown to more than 150 dancers.

It was most recently presented in Mexico City, with the movements being inspired by Latin dance. Now, the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival gets to host this one-of-a-kind performance.

Many people will be partaking in the experience, including quite a few families.

The Bass family, comprised of Candace, 36, Kiara, 13, and Larry, 10, all have had previous dance experience.

“I have danced all my life. I teach and perform,” Candace said. “I’m excited, but…I’m not nervous.”

Candace’s daughter Kiara, who has danced since she was three years old, said, “The rehearsals aren’t too hard, but they’re a little tedious sometimes. But it’s going to be worth it in the end.”

Kiara’s brother Larry has been dancing since he was 5 years old.

“I heard about this from my mom, and she thought it would be fun for us [to do as a family],”  Larry said. “I am excited for the performance and not scared.”

Kara LaFleur, 29, felt comfortable signing up for this experience knowing that it wasn’t just for professional dancers and that anyone could do it.

“I lost about 40 pounds in the past six months. I ran my first 5K in July, and I decided if I could run a 5K I could do a 30-minute dance performance,” LaFleur said. “So I’ve come a long way and practices have been kicking my butt, but it’s been in a really good way, and I feel better every day.”

Celeste DiNucci, 51, an actress and singer, has never been much of a dancer, and said that joining this group would be a lot more fun than going to a gym.

“The rehearsals are very challenging, but it’s really fun,” DiNucci said. “The more we learn, the more intimidating it is that I’m going to actually remember everything.”

In addition to Émard teaching the choreography, many assistants are there for the dancers during rehearsals so that they can help out if anyone has questions. Among these assistants is Duane Holland, who has many years of professional dance experience.

“I am one of the original members of Rennie Harris Puremovement,” Holland said. “I’ve danced with Ronald K. Brown and I’ve danced in New York with the original cast of Broadway’s “Lion King.”

Émard himself was always fascinated by dance, but started dancing at what is considered a late age in the dance world.

“I was 23 when I decided to train as a dancer, but before that, I was an actor, ” Émard said.

He was always interested in line dancing and one day he decided he should do something about it.

“Since I always worked with professional dancers, I wanted to do this project with non-professional dancers,” Émard said. “I decided to propose this idea to the dance festival in Montréal and they were happy to get involved.”

Although he’s working with a nonconventional cast, Émard is nonetheless passionate about the performance.

“It’s very exciting to see so many people dancing together doing the same choreography,” Émard said. “It’s refreshing and touching and moving.”

Le Grand Continental will be performed on Saturday, Sept. 8, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., as well as Sunday, Sept. 9, at 4 p.m. in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.

Rebecca Zoll can be reached at

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