World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival




The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival was founded to present the diverse ethnic dance companies in the Bay Area. Over the years, the Festival has expanded its reach to include performers from throughout Northern California and has presented over 600 dance companies from over a hundred different genres. Please click on the sidebar link titled Festival Dancers 1999-Present, for a list and information on the genres and groups presented in World Arts West programs since 1999.

During its rich history, the Festival has celebrated and fostered appreciation for the diverse cultural communities in the Bay Area and Northern California, through an annual performance season of dance styles that have included traditional classical dance, sacred dance genres, vernacular dance forms, social dance and folk dance presentations.

Originally founded and produced by Grants for the Arts of the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, the 1978 Festival was the first multicultural, city-sponsored ethnic dance festival in America. In 1982, following an RFP process, the contract to produce the Festival was awarded to World Arts West, then known as City Celebration. In recent history, three distinct programs have been presented annually in June at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, with three performances per weekend. Since 2008, the Festival has expanded to a fourth weekend to present the best in Bay Area world dance and music!

The Festival has presented over 14,000 dancers, with dancers from community groups performing alongside internationally recognized professionals, students beside masters, and cultural groups as different as Senegalese dancers from the Kaolak region and Mexican folkorico dancers from the Tobasco region all performing on the same stage. Each program features 7-11 companies. The Festival performers are selected from an annual audition, where each company has ten minutes to present its work, while soloists have five minutes. Participants in the field come from varied socioeconomic backgrounds and represent a broad range of occupations and lifestyles. Many are second and third generation dancers and musicians, and after so many years, the children of Festival pioneers are now recreating, preserving, and innovating important work as their contribution to contemporary culture.

Since 1978, the Festival’s performances have reached hundreds of thousands of audience members, providing outstanding opportunities to artists who seek to present the dance expressions of their cultural and ethnic heritages.