Dragon Boat Festival: Racing is just the beginning

By Lisa Autz

A profusion of color and entertainment will take over Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the 23rd annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival Aug. 10-11.

More than 180 teams engage in the historical dragon boat race while a slate of cultural performances keeps the crowd energized on land. Rock-’n’-roll, tap dancing and traditional Italian folk dances are expected to captivate more than 50,000 people for two days at one of the largest sporting and multicultural events in Queens.

BAAM, a group of New York’s top young musicians and songwriters, will play the festival for the first time and promise their performance will have the crowd dancing.

“I’m sure it is going to be tons of fun. We are a band that makes people want to get up and move,” said Aleski Glick, the band’s co-founder and lead guitarist.

The seven-piece band got together in 2011 and describe their sound as “indie rock with a heavy blues and jazz influence,” according to Glick.

Some of the young talents of the group have played with renown musicians like Jimmy Heath and Steve Wilson.

“The program includes a balance of musical groups and dance,” said Barbara Nelson, the festival’s program and planning director.

Children are also entertained with an arts-and-crafts tent featuring a balloon man, Twister, and face painting.

The food has become a large part of the cultural event as rice dumplings are traditionally eaten and an international food court will offer French, Italian and Chinese cuisine.

“It is a valuable festival to bring so many different cultures together,” said Alessandra Belloni, co-founder, director and percussionist of I Giullari di Piazza, a southern Italian dance, music and theater company.

Performers of I Giullari di Piazza will dance and play renaissance love songs from Naples, Sicily, Calabria and other southern regions of Italy. The classic folk numbers are said to be social and healing dances, according to Belloni, who travels to Tuscany every summer to teach “Rhythm Is the Cure” dance workshops.

Since the 1980s, the group of live-in artists at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine have toured the Tri-state area and across the country to perform the ritual dances.

“Other years I have had Irish, Colombian, Mexico folkloric, tango and Chinese folk dances. Every year I look for a new mix of talent for entertainment,” said Nelson.

One of the few bands making a second appearance is The Bailen Brothers, an up-and-coming rock band of twin brothers from the city.

“It was fun last year and we are excited to play again,” said David Bailen.

The duo performs two-part harmonies and are influenced by The Beatles and The Band. Since 2007, the two have played on the VH1 “Save the Music” Break n’ Through Concert Series, the CMJ Music Marathon and other festivals. The band plans to even bring another member of the family on stage.

“Our 16-year-old sister played with us last year and might play with us this year, too,” said David Bailen.

The family-friendly event hosts a handful of entertainment to celebrate young talent.

The Tap City Youth Ensemble will contribute with a repertoire of pieces by professionally trained and experienced youth tap dancers. Their performance will include classical, urban, contemporary and audience-integrated dances.

“We share rhythms with the audience back and forth — we sometimes will have someone sing while we improvise to the tune,” said Susan Hebach, director of Tap City Youth Ensemble.

The Youth Ensemble was founded in the 2009-10 season and is part of the American Tap Dancing Foundation. The collection of kids ranging from ages 10 to 18 will incorporate a historical routine, “Roots of Tap,” that take the audience through African, Irish and English clogging to the development of tap dancing today.

“It is really exciting to be invited to an event that has so much history,” said Hebach.

The free festivities run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and guarantee elaborate performances with non-stop action.

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