Death’s Door Dance Festival premieres July 22-24

Let’s Dance!

Say “Door County,” and a few things probably come to mind: cherries, water and the arts, because it’s no secret that Door County has one of the most vibrant art scenes in the state. From the visual and written arts to the performance arts, practitioners of creativity in all forms have been calling Door County home for decades. Still, Kelly Anderson felt there was one area that could use greater representation and visibility: dance. 

“Arriving [in Door County], I was definitely concerned that my dancing days may be over,” Anderson said.
Prior to moving to the county, Anderson had performed and choreographed professionally for more than 20 years, working with artists and companies in Milwaukee, New York, Portland and Chicago. 

“[In Door County] there’s music, theater, artisans, etc., but very little dance,” Anderson said. “I’ve always been moved to someday create a summer dance gathering – an event where dance artists can workshop ideas and share their works in progress. Where artists have access to classes and performance opportunities. Almost like Jacob’s Pillow, but right here in the Midwest.” 

Jacob’s Pillow is a Massachusetts-based dance center, school and performance center known within the dance industry for its summer dance festival. Creating something similar closer to home was a goal Anderson had tucked away as a project to tackle much later in her career. Or so she thought. 

“COVID jump-started the process,” she said. “In January, I sent a letter to my dance friends. The email was purely to test the temperature of interest. After all, at that point, I didn’t even have a place for us to perform.”

The response was overwhelmingly positive. 

“I basically Hail Maryed my own Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come,’” she said.
As supportive email after supportive email flooded Anderson’s in-box, the first Death’s Door Dance Festival quickly took shape, and now, July 22-24, Door County will welcome dance-industry movers, makers and shakers from across the Midwest and beyond for a weekend filled with pop-up workshops, performances and a coffee conversation that will highlight the importance of dance in communities. 

Despite attracting an accomplished lineup of dance professionals, the free event, Anderson said, is “designed to be accessible and inclusive” – welcoming to all, regardless of their dance experience or knowledge. “There are introductory classes; there are professional classes; there are exploratory classes. I believe there is something for everyone.”

Another aspect of the inaugural festival is a Sunday-morning Coffee & Conversation with author/scholar/choreographer Sarah Wilbur at the Sister Bay village hall. 

“Hopefully the conversation contributes to people recognizing that dance needs space to thrive, and help acquiring those spaces is needed,” said Wilbur, who, in addition to her advocacy work, teaches dance at Duke University. “I think there are more resources than people think. I don’t mean owning buildings, but having venues and sites that already exist where people can dance.”

The festival seeks to illustrate that by placing pop-up classes and performances at various businesses and community spaces, such as the Wickman House restaurant, Door County Wildwood Market, the Ephraim village hall and the Sister Bay Beach Pavillion. 

“It feels like people are led to believe that dance takes place only on stages and through dance companies,” Wilbur said.

But now, postpandemic, there seems to be a shift that’s changing that mindset.

“Things are tipping toward the more experiential,” she said.
Although Wilbur’s conversation will be geared predominantly toward those working in the dance field, any artist, arts organizer, arts ally or advocate is welcome and encouraged to attend.

To close out the festivities, Door County Wildwood Market will host a public, improvisational dance jam, led by Dan Schuchart of Milwaukee’s Wild Space Dance Company and accompanied by composer Tim Russell. 

“The public can jump in or simply hang out to witness the magic of dance making in the moment,” said Anderson, who’s excited and humbled by the positive energy surrounding the festival’s premiere.

“I consider 2022 an introduction,” Anderson said. “So far it’s been inspiring to see how quickly the event has been embraced by artists and our community. I truly believe Death’s Door Dance Festival has the potential to become a summer Midwest dance staple.”

Find out more at


Friday, July 22

6 pm: Pop-up Performance

Wickman House, 11976 Mink River Road in Ellison Bay
(Take a blanket or chair.)

Saturday, July 23

9 am – 5 pm: Free Public Classes

• Ephraim Village Hall, 9996 Hwy 42

• Sister Bay Village Hall, 10693 Hwy 42

6 pm: Performances

Sister Bay Beach Pavilion, 2362 Mill Road
(Rain date: Sunday, July 24, 3 pm)

Sunday, July 24

10:30 am: Coffee & Conversation: “How Dance Works” with author/scholar/choreographer Sarah Wilbur

Sister Bay Village Hall, 10693 Hwy 42

1 pm: Improv Dance Jam 

Door County Wildwood Market, 2208 Wildwood Road in Sister Bay