Friday, March 16, 2012
CREATING A HEALTHY DANCE COMMUNITY
Last weekend I had the pleasure of performing and teaching in the Washington, DC area. I was absolutely struck by the wonderful dance community that I witnessed... dancers of all genres getting together on a regular basis to put on shows; students learning professionalism from their "dance mammas", and performers taking the time to give back to the community.
One of the highlights of the entire great weekend was talking shop with Artemis Mourat and my sponsor, Belladonna. We sat around Artie's cozy house sipping wine and feasting on a Moroccan chicken dish she'd prepared, and talked for hours. The conversation stayed focused on dance, but veered wildly between the past, present,and future. We talked about dancers we all admired, the joy of teaching, and Artie's early days in the clubs, when she herself was a baby dancer. She spoke about how wonderful it was to dance to live music, her hippie lifestyle, which at the time was considered "Bohemian", and how she navigated through shark-infested waters, working with dancers who came from overseas, who mercilessly struck down their competition by pulling "Showgirls" type stunts, such as leaving shards of glass in the shoes of a rival dancer.
Mostly, what we talked about was community...and how important it is.
A vibrant dance community affords benefits to all of its members. In a healthy dance community, each and every person is relevant. There is a large pool of talent to choose from for learning purposes, or for gathering a cast for a certain show. Those with specialties and unique areas of expertise can share their knowledge, enriching the individual skill sets for everyone. Creativity becomes contagious, because it is encouraged to thrive.
Younger or less experienced dancers have the opportunity to learn the ropes from competent professionals, while more practiced dancers can keep current with the latest developments and newest trends. Community members of all ages and ranges of experience can interact freely and respectfully with each other, gaining insight, while every individual can also pull in new members, who could also potentially enrich the existing group.
In an ideal dance community, every member is considered important enough to have a say, and every individual can make a contribution to the whole.
Nowadays, due to the Internet and with the big umbrella of dance populations from all over the world interacting online, there is even more to learn. Individual dance groups from far-flung areas are no longer isolated and completely self-sufficient; the various communities can experience each other’s triumphs and tragedies with the click of a mouse.
Still, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction, and so keeping a live, local dance community running smoothly is paramount for it to be a nurturing environment for its members.
Like the modern urban model for a city, a dance community is composed of the “city” itself, which is basically everyone involved in that particular dance community. The “citizens” include everyone from nationally or internationally known established dancers to regional professional and semi-professional dancers as well as their students. The “ city council” is composed of the leaders, which would mean the most high-powered community members, or elders. The “city council” can pass certain “ordinances” which would include establishing fair pricing or a going rate for gigs, or creating safe spaces for the community’s less experienced members to hone their craft.
Meanwhile, there are also the city’s various “neighborhoods” (dance schools and troupes, and individual dancers who are not attached to either) and the surrounding “suburbs”, made up of people adjacent to the dance scene, such as musicians, costume makers, club owners, theater managers, photographers, booking agents, dance supply vendors, dancers’ families, fans and the like.
If there is a problem in a certain “neighborhood”, such as an incident of price undercutting, theft of a costume or even a gig, or some other sort of bad behavior, the rest of the community will undoubtedly find out and act accordingly, somehow rebuking the offender(s), sometimes by driving them out of the community.
But though these problems do exist, in a strong dance community- and there are many of them- these sort of things are less likely to happen, because of the community’s sense of ethics. For example, in my Los Angeles dance community, there seems to be less discord and fewer problems with dancers in general, undoubtedly because there are so many world class, name dancers living here. Professional behavior and courtesy are the norm, and instilled in baby dancers from Day One. In LA, as with anywhere else, there are always more performers than gigs, and there is the occasional kerfuffle over real (or imagined) trespasses, but it just seems to be handled a bit more…professionally.
You may be wondering what you have to offer to your community, or how you can help to foster a great community atmosphere where you live.
There are many ways to go about it; but the most significant is to simply get involved!
Offering your services to your own dance community-whatever they may be- will always be helpful. This can be anything from assisting others backstage to donating a few hours of your time at local dance festival.
Consider offering to teach pro-bono classes, even if it’s a just a one-off, maybe at a women’s shelter or for a group of underprivileged children as a form of outreach. Perform gratis at a local hospital, rest home, or at a benefit for a charity organization that you believe in.
Share Your Knowledge
Imparting information is a huge way to ensure your community’s sustainability and continuing legacy. Raise your “children” (students) well; prepare them for their life as dancers as well as you can. Mentor a student or students; take the time to make sure everyone in your classes understands and respects not just technique, but also local dance history, and as much universal history as you know about your particular dance form.
If you teach, verse your students well in professional etiquette, be it onstage, backstage or within the community itself.
If You Don’t Have Anything Good To Say, Don’t Say It At All
Sharing ideas or constructive criticism is one thing. Sharing gossip or spreading rumors is a whole other animal. Slandering or defaming other dancers, whether in “real life” or on the Internet, tears down a community. Put yourself in the other person’s place and think about how you would feel if this was happening to you. Though it may be tempting to pass on a juicy tidbit, post a catty comment on a social media site or stir up the pot with a little hearsay, please think twice about doing it.
Give Back To The Community
Giving back to your community can come in many forms- so give generously of whatever you have to offer. It can be anything from providing advice or a shoulder to cry on, collating programs for a show, or tidying up a dressing room at the end of the night. Maybe you’d consider waiving all or part of your performance fee to help out a friend who is bringing in a guest artist.
Giving back can also be donating used props or costume pieces to a dance studio or a newbie performer, or extending a free service- such as graphic design or sewing- to someone within your community who needs it. It can be offering a scholarship at your dance school, or making sure you show up to support a special event…even if it’s just a student show! It can be going a little out of your way to drive a dancer you don’t already know home from a gig; that could wind up as a friendship or an artistic collaboration. It can be attending shows other than those you are involved with, offering words of support to a nervous baby dancer, and being an enthusiastic audience member. Do what you can.
Whatever you give to your community will always come back to you in some way…often when you need it most.