''Do you know that I performed at the national festival 20 years ago?''
Diane DeFries of the American College Dance Festival Association says she hears that comment often. ''It's amazing how many people working [in dance] have been involved with the organization, or were involved as students,'' she says.
But the general public?
''It's sort of been a secret,'' she laughs, ''because we never had tickets.'' This year, ACDFA's biennial National College Dance Festival has doubled the number of its gala performances, making more tickets available.
Next weekend's festival features three different gala concerts, each performed twice. And each concert features 10 different dances. DeFries considers the variety, what you could call dance sampler platters, as part of the concerts' general appeal. But there's also the quality and energy. ''There's this level of enthusiasm with the performers that is so inspiring,'' she says. ''And the technical level is very high. The dancing is beautiful.'' At the end of the gala concerts, one student choreographer and one student performer will be honored with ACDFA/Dance Magazine Awards.
ACDFA started almost 40 years ago organizing annual regional dance conferences, which culminate in gala concerts highlighting up to a dozen dances from attending schools. Every other year since 1981, a panel consisting of ''people with national reputations in the field'' select roughly 30 works from those conferences to premiere at the Kennedy Center during the national festival.
For gay audiences, DeFries singles out two works in this year's festival by Keith Johnson, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, and a guest artist at California's Loyola Marymount University. ''Both of these works really look at same-sex relationships in a stunning way,'' she says.
DeFries says you can't go wrong seeing any of the three different programs – if you can't see them all. But the program on Sunday, May 27, strays the furthest from the festival's typical ballet to contemporary dance spectrum.
''On Sunday, there is a full-out Mexican folklorico piece with, I think, 23 dancers onstage,'' she says. ''It is really a lot of fun.''
The National College Dance Festival gala concerts are Friday, May 25, through Sunday, May 27, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Tickets are $25 each. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.