Arts & Culture

Dance gets a chance in the spotlight at this year’s Oly Old Time Festival

The Big Saturday Night Square Dance draws a crowd.
The Big Saturday Night Square Dance draws a crowd. Courtesy of the Oly Old-Time Festival

The Oly Old Time Festival, happening this weekend, is all about the joys of music — listening to it, playing it and, especially this year, dancing to it.

Internationally acclaimed percussive dancer Nic Gareiss will perform and teach at the 11th annual festival, a program of the Arbutus Folk School.

Gareiss — whose ouevre includes Appalachian clogging, Irish step dancing and many other styles of dance that make music as well as movement — will headline the festival’s Friday night concert with banjoist Allison de Groot, who’s been called one of Canada’s finest folk musicians.

“It’s movement that you can hear and music that you can see,” Gareiss told The Olympian. “The motions that your body creates, they all revolve around engaging with the floor in some kind of percussive way.”

“Nic has so much experience with all these different forms of dance,” festival organizer Emily Teachout told The Olympian. “He’s able to bring in all of these traditional elements, but he’s also really improvisational. He brings his own personality into every performance.”

Gareiss, who’ll focus at the festival on Appalachian clogging and flat-footing, is known for his high-flying moves and has inspired critics to heights and flights of fancy of their own.

The Irish Times’ Siobhán Long described him as “the human epitome of the unbearable lightness of being,” adding, “Gareiss is more fleet of foot than an Olympian sprinter and more buoyant than a helium-filled balloon.”

Daniel Gewertz of the Boston Herald proclaimed him “the most inventive and expressive step dancer on the scene” and said he “called forth visions of Fred Astaire.”

“We’ve been hoping for years to get Nic Gareiss to come to our festival, and our schedules have not aligned,” said Teachout, who’s worked with Gareiss at numerous folk festivals. “We’re so excited to finally have him here.”

Each Presidents’ Day weekend, the festival brings together 600-plus musicians, dancers, artists and lovers of old-time music from the Northwest and beyond for concerts, dances, workshops and jams — and opportunities to meet and mingle while enjoying gelato, tamales and other food-truck fare and sipping beer or wine at the South Bay Grange, where the concerts and dances happen.

The weekend’s biggest events are the Friday night concert, which this year features The Horsenecks and Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms along with Gareiss and de Groot, and the Saturday night dance, with music by The Cully Cutups.

Gareiss’s performance with de Groot is sure to be something to see — and also something to hear, since his feet on the floor serve as a musical instrument.

“That’s the wonderful thing about working as a dancer who makes sound,” Gareiss said. “The roles cross a little bit.”

Similarly, he said, de Groot’s performance will be visual as well as auditory.

“Allison has a really incredible, subtle way of playing the clawhammer banjo,” he said. “The movement of her hands becomes a gestural thing in the context of a performance that blurs sound and movement together.”

The duo will teach together, too, offering a Saturday workshop that welcomes musicians and dancers to learn a tune together.

“This is a little bit unconventional,” he said. “Usually, dancers and musicians are put into separate rooms and then thrown together later in performance situations. At this event, we’re teaching a tune in the same room at the same time to a group of dancers and a group of banjo players. It seems like a very simple premise, but it’s not one that happens very often in our scene.”

Oly Old Time Festival

  • What: The 11th annual weekend of concerts, dances, jams and workshops celebrates and spreads the word about the joys of old-time music.

  • When: Thursday through Sunday

  • Where: South Bay Grange, 3918 Sleater Kinney Road NE, Olympia, and Arbutus Folk School, 600 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia

  • Tickets: $5 for Thursday night’s kickoff dance, $20 each for Friday night’s concert and Saturday night’s dance; free for ages 12 and younger; free for workshops and Sunday’s cabaret

  • Information: 360-350-0187,



  • 7-10 p.m. Kickoff dance with The Tallboys


  • Noon-4 p.m. Workshops

  • 3-4 p.m. Percussive dance workshop with Nic Gareiss

  • 5-7 p.m. Lounge acts: The Sassafras Sisters and Hokumville

  • 7-10 p.m. Concert with The Horsenecks, Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms and Nic Gareiss & Allison de Groot

  • 10 p.m.-midnight. Square dance with The Indivisibillies

  • Midnight. Line dance workshop


  • Noon-1 p.m. Kid Jam

  • Noon-5 p.m. Workshops

  • 1-2 p.m. All-ages dance with Straw Boss and the Hay Fevers

  • 4-5 p.m. “Play a Tune/Dance a Tune” workshop with Gareiss and banjo player Allison de Groot

  • 5-7 p.m. Lounge acts: Hey George and Crankie Show

  • 7-10 p.m. Square dance with The Cully Cutups

  • 10 p.m.-midnight. Cajun dance with Les Coeurs Criminels


  • 1-3 p.m. Cabaret, with all invited to perform