Gotta Dance >> Opportunities and Obstacles Abound at the L.A. Dance Summit 2013

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The first L.A. Dance Summit was held in downtown’s Little Tokyo on Saturday June 8, 2013. In the few weeks leading up to the event I couldn’t help but excitedly wonder who from the dance community would show up, what of the many issues surrounding making dance in LA they would tackle, and would our community finally be presented with the answers and resources that have been in such short supply.

The day began with a panel session opened by Cora Mirikitani, President and CEO for the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) who quickly handed the podium off to Renae Williams Niles, VP of Programming for The Music Center. Ms. Niles spoke to the audience of dancers, choreographers, presenters, administrators, and advocates about the little known statistics on dance schools, companies, and working professionals that reveal Los Angeles to be the largest center for dance in the United States. She continued to outline the long legacy of dance greats that had resided in LA over nearly the last 100 years and commended the Summit for being held as a proactive convening to support the continued growth of this geographically strewn and exceptionally diverse community.

Laura Zucker, the Executive Director for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, was next to take the mic as the moderator for the panel on “L.A.’s Dance Ecology – Bright Spots and Challenges.” She shared new data that shed light on the array of key challenges that concert dance companies face, noting that 84% of the income for large not-for-profit dance companies is earned revenue through ticket sales earned from performances and workshop tuition, whereas 50% of income for small companies comes from private donations. She then introduced Margaret Jenkins, Artistic Director of the San Francisco based Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and CHIME (Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange) which has provided funding for 30 dance artists to create choreographic works in LA since 2008 when a local program was budded here from its Northern California origins.

Each panelist subsequently spoke on a subject concerning the not-for-profit sector of the dance population here in LA: anxiety over the lack of affordable rehearsal spaces discussed by David Rousseve (REALITY dance/theater company), the challenges facing LA presenters expertly articulated by Kristy Edmunds (Center for the Art of Performance, UCLA), and an appeal from Olga Garay-English, Executive Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs for the City of Los Angeles, directed to the LA dance community to be more assertive and explicit about its funding and infrastructure needs.

Earlier in the dialogue, Zucker acknowledged the notable absence of representation for the for-profit dance sector. She nodded to Jenkins for insight about how to get stage, studio, and screen dancers to align as one voice. In her eloquent reply, Jenkins suggested to elicit key commercial dance leaders and create a forum for a dialogue. Also missing from the conversation were speakers from the Dance Resource Center (DRC) and the LA Stage Alliance, though the panel cited several key initiatives that the organizations were currently undertaking.

After lunch, two rounds of concurrent workshops were offered by experts in their fields in an array of subjects including networking, marketing, career development, artistic collaborations, and cultivating donors. Dancer support organizations were seated at Information round tables throughout the afternoon as well. Hundreds of attendees filled the theater for the morning panel and stayed on for the later sessions.

Good ideas, tips, and leads brought me bubbles of inspiration throughout the day, but the droning inner-voice of 10 years of professional experience reminded me that though this was a pinnacle gathering, this conversation had a long way to go before anyone was going to get a golden ticket. I also could not ignore that we were only having the non-profit half of the conversation. Nevertheless, anecdotes and debates between old colleagues and new contacts created the excited soundtrack for the entire day, proving that the event at the very least had brought the far reaches of Los Angeles and beyond together to talk about their favorite topic – keeping the art of dance alive in this city where opportunities and obstacles still have equal footing.