Attending the Dance Community Event: Conversations Inside and Outside the Box: Expanding the Presence of Dance in LA
The half-day gathering titled “Conversations Inside and Outside the Box: Expanding the Presence of Dance in LA” was held as a dance community forum on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at the Wilshire Boulevard headquarters of the LA County Arts Commission (LACAC). This call together is a continuation of public meetings that began with the LA Dance Summit in June at the JACCC and the annual Western Arts Alliance conference held here in late August. I had to be there to share it with you.
Leaders from LACAC, Dance Resource Center (DRC), and Pentacle were responsible for hosting the event. Shayna Keller, Executive Director of the DRC, had this to say about the intention that guided their preparation: “Anji Milanovic [LACAC], Felicia Rosenfeld [Pentacle], and I began planning this event nearly a year ago. The initial conversation started with an interest in a dance-specific gathering to provide information and resources to our community, and then began to evolve as we thought about the need for more in-depth conversations about the sustainability of our field. Artists are often presented with ‘best practices’ and over-simplified ‘shoulds’ that may not apply to their unique needs, and may not be as relevant within LA’s arts ecology. Anji, Felicia, and I wanted to carve a place for dialogue where both emerging voices and seasoned leaders could generate new ideas, share knowledge, and develop solutions.”
As a result of this aim, the layout of the day’s program was unique. Rather than lectures or a professional panel, the agenda held two breakout sessions for the group discussion of four relevant topics. LACAC’s Professional Development and Programs Manager, Anji Milanovic spoke to the decision to format the event in this way. “Our goal in planning this convening with our partners, Pentacle and the Dance Resource Center, was to provide an opportunity for deeper conversation. Very often at events like this everyone is rushing from one workshop to another and here we wanted to offer the space for participants to network, share resources and discuss challenges and successes as well as look at opportunities for creative collaborations.” The agenda allowed for participants to mingle and even an additional space was offered for “break off” conversations to continue and take a life of their own.
After an initial period of introductions and welcoming, the assemblage of about 50 administrators, teachers, choreographers, performers and other media artists split into 2 groups for the first breakout session to discuss either bringing dance into the community with Melanie Rios Glaser, co-CEO of The Wooden Floor, or to discuss bringing dance to the public through technology and media with Francesca Penzani, director, choreographer, producer, and dance for camera faculty at CalArts. Both groups met in the round with the presenters and the floor was open for everyone to speak.
The technology and media forum quickly brought up the challenges and desires for artists to bring their dances from the stage to the screen. Two distinct voices were formed in the group – those wanting to make work specifically for the camera and those desiring video representation of their work for documentation and marketing purposes. Choreographers mentioned their concerns about having the time and/or skill sets needed to direct shoots and edit footage for their projects. The process for transforming the impact of the physical, 3-dimensional performance experiences of dance into shorter excerpts on a flat screen were not necessarily intuitive. Some felt that they would like to collaborate with other artists and delegate these tasks, but were limited on resources to fund or connect with such persons. One solution offered was to look into “time banks,” where hours of professional services are traded for sought after services, for example two hours of digital editing for two hours of yoga private lessons. Ms. Penzani, who facilitated the discussion and has over 15 years of experience teaching courses on dance for the camera, commented afterwards that while she felt that no one issue really got resolved, what became apparent was that these artists desired more discussion and information on the subject. Her bi-annual workshop series on video documentation for dance and dance for the screen may be a worthwhile undertaking to ride the technology wave (write firstname.lastname@example.org for more info). Attendees were given a list of resources for finding dance on camera links and videos to refer to as well.
The dance in the community discussion was concurrently facilitated in the adjacent meeting room.
The second breakout session was combined so the whole group could discuss avenues for getting work presented and out there in the world. Rachel Cohen, Executive Director of Cadence Arts Network, Inc, Allen Moon Director of Sales at David Lieberman/Artists’ Representatives, Julie McDonald, Senior Agent and Founder of McDonald/Selznick Associates, and Felicia Rosenfeld, Director of Programming at Pentacle, facilitated this round robin. The group was first asked to brainstorm on the assets Los Angeles offers such as good weather, lots of public space, and dance advocacy via local institutions. This quickly led to a discussion about working with entities such as museums and art galleries, and some critical points were raised from the group’s collective experience. Some had found the language gap between the needs of the venue and performing artist created miscommunications or changes to the artistic vision. Funding was another issue raised – do museums have money to commission works in addition to providing the space and insurance coverage for the event or is it up to the artists to find other sources of funding to complete the projects. David Mann, a free-lance curator who has worked with LA monoliths such as LACMA, said much of the success of working with galleries and arts organizations has to do with who is curating their programming. Cohen and Moon advised in all of these instances to ask critical questions about the expectations of both parties involved, know who is the audience, and be clear about why that piece belongs in that space. Similar to curators, presenters each have a particular way they prefer to be contacted, though they all are going to expect a technical rider, quote sheet and electronic press kit at the very least. Dance companies and choreographers are encouraged to reach out to spaces for performance opportunities once they’ve completed this package to meet the professional standard.
The discussion continued on playing outside the proscenium to taking corporate engagements. From one-offs in nightclubs to commercial events, the benefits of the enhanced exposure and additional income these performance opportunities offered were highlighted. According to a show of hands, all the dancers and dance companies were willing to expand their performance rosters but many didn’t know where to source these types of gigs. For the companies who were raising funds through off-stage events, they said the income looks great to grant funders, the hosting parties can write-off the costs for hiring a 501(c)(3), and their broadened audience base has led to more contacts, potential funders, and more opportunities.
The day came to a close after each person was able to share what stood out to him/her most from the day’s events. In general there were reciprocating responses – the attendees want to keep discussing the needs and issues of the dance community while also feeling gratitude for the opportunity to speak and be heard at this occasion. When asked to share her view of the outcome of the day, Shayna Keller said it most eloquently, “One of our facilitators, Melanie Rios Glaser of The Wooden Floor, said she left with more questions than answers. I think many of us would echo this sentiment. There are ongoing resource scarcities, audience development challenges, shifting definitions of ‘community’ and ‘engagement,’ and rapidly changing developments in technology; navigating these will require innovation and entrepreneurship. Luckily, we have artists at the helm.
At our closing feedback session, there was a resounding call for more opportunities for the community to convene, which I have taken to heart and look forward to facilitating in the coming year. There was a supportive quality to the gathering overall, and I think people understand the necessity of sharing and helping one another during lean times. Artists, as engaged citizens, are embracing their roles as change-makers. We all possess the common bond of a shared love for dance and vision for the growth of Los Angeles dance.
As with many of these gatherings, some of the most fruitful conversations happened informally, between sessions, and over coffee. These “water cooler” exchanges are often where we see the seeds of collaboration are planted, and I look forward to witnessing these connections grow in the years to come.”
It seems like each avenue of our community is taking a stand to fortify and unite forces. If you haven’t jumped on this wagon, the time is now. Community advocacy is the only way we can make the necessary paradigm shift to create a thriving dance scene here in the city of angels. With artists taking control we are in the best position to succeed. Thank you for reading, spread the word, and see you at the next event!