A national movement uses art to highlight water issues

National Water Dance at the Deering Estate at Cutler in south Miami-Dade County. Photos by Juan Cabrera for National Water Dance.

Around a fountain in downtown Los Angeles, students from the second-largest school district in the nation will be dancing, starting at 4 p.m. EST on Saturday, April 16. Simultaneously, University of Alabama students will be performing their own movements along the Black Warrior River, while the Horace Mann School in New York will gather to dance at Indian Pond in Riverdale. In fact, water dances will be taking place at the same time all across the country, in 32 states spanning from Hawaii to Massachusetts.

It is all part of the second National Water Dance, which was founded here in Miami by choreographer, teacher and activist Dale Andree and is a Knight Arts Challenge winner. The massive project is meant to raise awareness of the importance of water to every aspect of life, said Andree, “and to connect us all through our waterways and our art.”

Harnessing the power of art to highlight environmental issues has become somewhat of a global movement. But Florida, and Miami in particular as a ground zero for climate change, is an ideal place for a water dance.

The urgency for art action hit Andree back in 2011, when she organized the Florida Waterways Dance Project, and then made it national in 2014. This year’s project, partially funded by Knight Foundation, surpasses them all, including the main Miami event.

The historic Deering Estate is one of the most glamorous sites in Florida. The way the landscape opens up to Biscayne Bay, offering panoramic views of both the tropical vegetation and, mostly, the water, is postcard perfect. It’s no surprise that Andree chose this location, which coincides with the Deering Estate Festival of the Arts.

National Water Dance.

At the bay’s edge, at 4 p.m., about 90 dancers and 100 musicians will create an art action, based around Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which percussionist Brandon Cruz has reinterpreted. Students from New World School of the Arts and several academies will be joined by professional dancers from the companies of Dance Now! Miami, Karen Peterson and Dancers and Augusto Soledade’s BrazzDance. To add to the synergy, as April is also O, Miami poetry month, students will read poems they wrote, inspired by water. In addition, environmental groups such as Earth Ethics Institute, Solar Choice and will also participate.

For Andree, water remains a key to all the works. There is no real blueprint for what the various groups can do, she said, except address issues that may be unique to their situations. For instance, California is experiencing an almost unprecedented drought, which is impacting not just the water supply there, but U.S. agriculture in general. In other locations, pollution of rivers and streams might be most critical.

In Miami water is everywhere, said Andree. It forms the essence of the community and raising awareness of what is happening to the water supply – from the ocean and bay to the Everglades – has become a passion for her.

But as John Donne’s famous poem states, “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” So by 2014, Andree decided to broaden the scope of the dance, and start connecting islands. She said she began by simply googling schools and dance companies, looking to see who else wanted to “add their voices to social change” through dance and music.

On Saturday in Florida alone, there will be 11 water dances, from Key West to Tallahassee, where Florida A&M’s Department of Health, Physical Education & Recreation is spearheading that event. And the diversity continues: the University of Idaho will utilize a fountain, while in Louisiana the location will be a bayou pedestrian bridge. “All of them have found different ways of expression,” said Andree.

And if Andree has her way, there will be no stemming the flow. Initially, she wanted to keep it national, so as to make sure we were focusing on the environmental issues facing this country. There are in fact global water dances that she could see connecting with, but she would like to keep National Water Dance as a national event that continues to grow organically, taking place every other year. “Conservation awareness about water” has no limits, said Andree.

Both local and national performances will be live streamed at

Miami’s National Water Dance will take place at 4 p.m., Saturday April 16, at the Deering Estate at Cutler, 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Cutler Ridge; free;