Abby Bender pinches herself to this day. She never imagined Built on Stilts growing into the eight-night Island phenomenon it is today.

“It’s kind of shocking that it’s been 20 years,” said Ms. Bender, the creator and director of Built on Stilts. She still remembers the show’s inaugural one-night-only performance two decades ago.

“We never thought it’d balloon into such an Island tradition.”

The show typically features 40-60 dance pieces over the course of approximately two weeks. This year’s performances are from August 11 to 14 and August 20 to 23, all held at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs.

Each piece consists of one to six dancers, allowing 150-200 dancers to perform over four nights.

Participants range from five-year-olds to an 80-year-old choreographer. Over the course of the festival nearly 200 dancers will perform, from amateurs to professionals, including Islanders and visitors.

“It’s their festival,” said Ms. Bender in reference to the Island community. “I’m not picking and choosing who goes in.”

Over 60 pieces were registered for this year’s festivities according to Ms. Bender. She believes that the open, communal Union Chapel audience encourages more and more people from across the country to visit the Vineyard and perform in the show.

“Participants feel supported by this exceptional audience,” she said.

The show offers a mix of dance styles each night. Modern dance routines remain most popular while hip-hop, belly-dancing and even improvisational dance pieces appear throughout the festival.

Built on Stilts is not only dedicated to freedom of expression; each performance is also free of charge. The festival relies on donations and grants. Recent donations from the MV Cultural Council and MV Center for Visual Arts helped produce this year’s shows along with T-shirt and CD sales. The support eliminates all admission fees.

Doors open at promptly at 7:30 p.m. each evening, with first come, first served seating. After a drum circle warm up, which is not to be missed, the dance program begin at 8 p.m.

For more information about scheduling, visit