The Palestinian dance community is making strides in entering the international dance scene as it hosts the third annual Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival this spring. Currently running until May 5, Ramallah has welcomed over 140 dancers hailing from 14 international companies, including from Norway, Serbia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Portugal, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Spain, as well as 12 local Palestinian dance troupes to be part of this unique festival. Festival Director, Khaled Elayyan, explains that the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival was an initiative of Sareyyet Ramallah - First Ramallah Group in 2006 in order to "build culture, cooperation and dialogue between the Palestinian people and the world." The festival has grown considerably in its short history as it receives increased funding from both local and international donors, including many government agencies and the Ford Foundation. The 2006 festival hosted only 6 dance companies, but in 2007 they partnered to form a network with dance festivals in Lebanon and Jordan. Now, for the past two years, international dance groups have been able to perform at all three festivals as they pass through the region, greatly increasing the appeal and accessibility for internationals to participate. Elayyan further explains that, "this year the festival is of great importance because it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Ramallah municipality, and 60 years since the Palestinian's Nakba. We want to use this as an opportunity to show the world that even though the Palestinians live under occupation, in very difficult circumstances, we still have our lives and culture." Elayyan's Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe for Music and Dance, the host company of the festival, dates back to 1962, although following the June 1967 war the group went on hiatus until 1985. Combing elements of modern and traditional dance, the troupe aims to develop and raise the standards of the arts in Palestinian society. The two week festival will offer dance performances in Ramallah almost every day alternating between the Al-Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque, Ramallah Cultural Palace and Sareyyet Ramallah, as well as multiple performances at the Palestinian National Theater in Jerusalem. Additionally, Haifa and Nazareth will each host a performance as part of the festival. At 7 p.m. on May 2, the Nazareth Cultural Center will host Tarek Halabi's An Attempt to Understand. Halabi is an American-Palestinian choreographer, based in Belgium, who describes the undertaking of the project as "a way for me to further educate myself about the Palestinian situation in order to better understand the complexity of my own identity." This show will also be performed at 8 p.m. on March 1 at the Ramallah Cultural Palace. Norway's Jo Stromgren Company will present The Society at Haifa's Al-Midan Theater on May 4 at 7 p.m. Using a coffee machine as the central prop, this piece embodies a style "nonsensical language theatre mixed with dance and live music." Additional performances of this piece will take place at Ramallah's Al-Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque on May 3 and Jerusalem's Palestinian National Theater on May 6. The varied styles brought to the festival by the diverse companies create a unique atmosphere for both audience and participants. Enzo Celli, director and choreographer of the Italian Botega company, which performed its piece OSTRO in Ramallah last week, is a first timer at the festival, and in Ramallah, but hopes it will not be his last. He remarks that the Ramallah Contemporary Dance festival is "one of the most beautiful festivals for contemporary dance around the Mediterranean Sea." Opening night in Ramallah on April 17 brought in over 800 audience members and Elayyan hopes that the whole festival will draw between 6,000 to 8,000 people. In conjunction with International Dance Day on Tuesday, April 29, there will be a special showcase of Palestinian dance companies starting at 3 p.m. hosted by the Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe. Tickets for all of the shows are quite affordable priced at NIS 20 for adults and NIS 10. For more information about the festival, including full listings of companies and performance times visit Sareyyet Ramallah's website at, www.sirreyeh.org/festival.