Dance Fever

Fly Dance Group's rehearsals look more like basketball game warm-ups than dance concerts these days. As the heavy bass of house music fills the tiny duplex studio, five young men in baggy jeans, bright T-shirts, tennis shoes and gold chains move across the wood floor in intricate passing patterns, with choreographer Kathy Wood feeding in balls just like a coach. Soon they'll break out of the pregame groove and start their singular style of structured street dance -- spinning handstands, turning cartwheels, jerking their bodies through a wavy series of freeze-frames and, of course, mugging for the mirror.

Some would say it still doesn't look much like a dance concert. But it is. The Fly guys are rehearsing "Bounce," a piece about the stock market to be performed at the opening of the Jewish Community Center's Dance Month at the Kaplan Theatre Saturday night (along with the more conventional contemporary dance groups Sandra Organ Dance Company and Joan Karff's New Dance Group).

Dance Month has come a long way to include up-and-coming professional acts such as Fly. Nineteen years ago it started as a performance forum for the students in the JCC's intermediate and advanced adult dance classes. These ladies were "too big for a recital," recalls Dance Committee Chair Hilda Frank, but she lobbied for them with the Kaplan Theatre's scheduler anyhow. When he jokingly offered her a whole month rather than the weekend she had requested, Frank said, "I'll take it."

She has since taken it far beyond the community center circuit. This year's Dance Month hosts touring groups such as Naomi Goldberg's Los Angeles Modern Dance and Ballet Company and Japan's Buto-Sha Tenkei. Goldberg's group performs contemporary choreography to klezmer, Eastern European Jewish celebration music that Frank likens to "a kind of Jewish zydeco." Buto-Sha Tenkei's modern but ritualistic blend of drama and dance sold out the 90-seat black box at DiverseWorks last year and will bring a larger-scale show to the Kaplan's 350-seat space.

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But the focus of Dance Month, according to Frank, will always be on giving local talent "a chance to literally strut their stuff." At Houston Choreographers X6, look for New York transplant Jane Weiner, a former Mark Dendy dancer and coordinator of November's Hot Pink Houston concert, to choreograph an inventive piece on her burgeoning company, Hope Stone. Weave's Megan Lyle and the Houston Met's Kourtney Owens also have the potential to present interesting new work.

A big draw -- in a city where "dance" has long been synonymous with "ballet" -- will undoubtedly be the choreographic efforts of Houston Ballet principal Timothy O'Keefe (best known for his title role in the L.A. tour of Ben Stevenson's Dracula).

"We've got Dracula on the JCC stage!" Frank enthuses in a can-you-believe-it tone. And the HB dancers are "not being snooty" about the lower-rent digs.

-- Lauren Kern

Triple Focus: Saturday, January 16, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 17, at 3 p.m. $13; $7, students and seniors. KlezDanz!: Saturday, January 30, at 8 p.m. $15; $12, students and seniors. (Shortened family version on Sunday, January 31, at 3 p.m. $8.) Houston Choreographers X6: Saturday, February 6, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 7, at 3 p.m. $13; $7, students and seniors. Buto-Sha Tenkei: Wednesday, February 10, and Thursday, February 11, at 8 p.m. $20; $17, students and seniors. Kaplan Theatre, 5601 S. Braeswood. Call 729-3200 ext. 3231 for information.

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