Summer in Portland is the season of the festival: beer festivals, food festivals, music you totally listened to before it was cool festivals... and then there’s something a little different. It’s called Galaxy Dance Festival. It’s free to the public and runs August 3-5 in the open air of Director Park, just off the Red and Blue MAX lines.

Robert Guitron, artistic director of Polaris Dance Theatre, began the festival eight years ago with the goal of showcasing the wide variety of dance that happens here. “There’s a lot of dance in Portland... but it’s like Portland doesn’t really know how much dance there is, even dancers,” he says.

While big companies get plenty of exposure, there are many contemporary and cultural performance groups that go unnoticed. Guitron decided these groups needed more opportunities to share their work with the community, so he created one, rolling out a dance floor and inviting the city not only to watch all of this dance—but to join in. Galaxy also gives a voice to emerging choreographers and showcasing dance that might otherwise fly under the radar.

Performance styles at Galaxy run the gamut from contemporary and jazz to aerial and tap, with representation from all corners of the world. The festival will also offer workshops for audience members. Guitron says these classes are a huge part of the experience. “With it being free, people get up and try flamenco or aerial or trapeze for the first time, like, 'It’s really cool... I didn’t know what this was,’” he explains. It’s an opportunity for people to exercise their own right to self-expression through movement.

A festival like Galaxy is also a chance to bring together dance across styles and cultural traditions. “What if instead of building walls, we find a way to tear down walls?” asks Guitron. This question is what drives the development of Galaxy and its international, experimental nature. “If we can bring groups together who wouldn’t normally get together, that’s part of the idea... we need to get away from our egos, share resources, and support each other.”

It’s fitting, then, that this gathering takes place in an open, accessible space. Anyone can stop by for a moment to witness something they might not normally seek out.