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San Diego trolleyIn 1998, Jean Isaacs, one of San Diego’s pioneering choreographers, could not afford a theater for her new dance company’s performances, reports The New York Times in a recent article. Undeterred, she engineered an unlikely partnership with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, and turned the city’s streets into her stage.

The result of that innovative alliance is The Trolley Dances, now a San Diego tradition, which celebrated its 15th anniversary October 5 and 6, 2013. In fact, the popularity of the San Diego performances has inspired two other California spinoffs, in San Francisco and Riverside.

For tourists who find California’s car culture unappealing, the Trolley Dances offer a way to experience these three unique cities through the elements of dance and the inventiveness of the dancers.

The concept works like this, the article explains: Audience members board a trolley at a designated trolley station and are guided by volunteers to various stops along the route where mini dance performances, each about 10 minutes long and created by a different choreographer, pop up in unexpected places, incorporating and responding to their physical environment. If there’s a fountain, the dance might take place inside it. If there’s a fence, dancers are sure to climb it.

San Diego Trolley Dance sites have included the produce aisle of a supermarket, a boardroom in a downtown hotel, and even the border fence separating the United States and Mexico.

The organizers in all three cities praise their transit partners for being willing to collaborate on such an unusual concept. “In transit, we’re always looking to something to draw people’s attention,” Paul Jablonski, the chief executive of San Diego’s transit system, told The Times, “to get them to use it, to show the community that we’re part of the community.”

For San Diego and Riverside, the Trolley Dances’ goal is to get car-obsessed consumers to take public transit. In San Francisco, where people already widely use public transportation, the aim is to get tourists to venture beyond the city center.

Approximately 3,000 people take the Trolley Dances tours in San Diego each year. In San Francisco, the tours draw more than 4,000 spectators, and the Riverside Trolley Dances, still in its infancy, attracts hundreds.

Looking for something new? Try a Trolley Dance!

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