Dance/USA: Create the Future

Editorial note: This article was originally published Wednesday, June 1, 2011 in Smile Politely, Champaign-Urbana’s independent online magazine, providing the community with a passionate, trustworthy, informed point of view on local music, arts, culture, food+drink, sports, politics and news.

Dance artists and practitioners in the Champaign-Urbana (C-U) area have it made; they have access to a respected University dance department and a vibrant local dance community, and they are just a short drive away from one of the central hubs for dance in the U.S. – Chicago. This July, Dance/USA, a national service organization for professional dance, is giving C-U residents a great reason to make the drive.

Dance/USA will hold its Annual Conference in Chicago this year in an effort to further the group’s mission to “sustain and advance professional dance by addressing the needs, concerns and interests of artists, administrators and organizations,” its website says. This year’s conference theme is “Design it. Dance it. Be the Architect of Your Future.”

The Conference, which will be held from July 13-16, is expected to see the participation of hundreds of executive directors, artistic directors, company managers, choreographers, artists, and development and marketing professionals; these participants will be given opportunities to identify areas of challenge and need in the field, to examine and share new approaches and models, and to inspire new thinking that will lead to “a vibrant future for dance.”

In addition to attending Conference-wide networking events, Chicago performance showcases and morning stretch classes, participants may choose from four very different Program Envelopes, or tracks of engagement, to personalize their Conference experiences. These tracks include Audience Engagement, Management, Artistry, and Technology, and are explored primarily in moderated break-out sessions.

So how do those concepts translate on a local level?

For any C-U resident who has attended a site-specific work – one produced as a curriculum requirement for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), one created for 40 North/88 West’s Boneyard Arts Festival, or simply one that occurs as an impromptu improvisation – it is clear that local artists are actively exploring the idea of audience engagement.

But the concept doesn’t end at “breaking the fourth wall”; UIUC faculty Ken Beck and John Toenjes recently fused Dance/USA’s split focus on audience engagement and technology through the use of social media, videochat and livestream in performance. The UIUC also saw the use of technology in live dance performance in 2010 with the performances of Trisha Brown’s “Astral Convertible Re-imagined” and 2010 Dance MFA Alumna Hope Goldman’s “Form Constant.”

Though Dance/USA’s website indicates that technology will be discussed with respect to its usefulness on a business level at the Conference, it is the ways in which technology and online media overlap with artistry and audience engagement that spark my personal interest; the Audience Engagement break-out session, “Conversation Lab: Innovative Projects in Online Audience Engagement” will speak to these interests directly.  I look forward to seeing the other ways in which the four program envelopes overlap and interact during the Conference, as it is difficult to completely distill the elements of a field that thrives on stirring the pot.

That being said, each program envelope promises to deliver engaging and instructive content for those in attendance.

Break-out sessions in the Artistry track, such as “The Experience of Mentoring,” may be of particular help to recent graduates and current students of the UIUC Department of Dance; these discussions provide insight into “where to go next,” a concept that often plagues young dance artists as they leave their University nests. And who better to speak to recent UIUC grads than a UIUC Dance MFA alumna herself? Margi Cole, artistic director/founder of the Dance COLEctive and 1995 UIUC graduate will share her industry knowledge during “The Experience of Mentoring.” And Cole will not be the only UIUC Dance alumna on the Dance/USA 2011 Conference bill.

UIUC Dance MFA Alumna Paige Cunningham will perform with The Seldoms on the July 15 performance bill, while members of Cole’s Dance COLEctive – a company that includes 2010 Dance BFA graduates Melissa Pillarella and Stephanie Azzaretto in addition to Cole herself – will perform a site-specific work in Dance/USA’s Chicago Performance Showcase I. Whether or not the two recent grads will perform is uncertain; the cast list for the July 14 performance has not yet been finalized, Pillarella said.

But it’s not just about who you recognize at the Conference; it’s about broader exposure, too.
Though Urbana’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts has played host to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) twice during the last five years, Dance/USA’s Chicago Performance Showcases will offer C-U residents a more complete perspective of the physical makeups and artistic aesthetics of the city’s diverse dance companies.  In addition to more widely recognized names such as Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, River North Dance Chicago and HSDC, Dance/USA’s Showcases will feature The Humans, Ron De Jesús Dance and Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, among others.

For its diverse performance schedule and for its wealth of relevant critical discussion, Dance/USA’s 2011 Annual Conference is not to be missed. Now if only the price of gas was a little bit cheaper …

For more information, visit Dance/USA’s website.

Alyssa Schoeneman earned her BFA in Dance and her M.S. in News-Editorial Journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Schoeneman is currently freelancing for and for; her previous work has been featured in Dance Teacher magazine and in Dance Studio Life magazine. Schoeneman is the 2011 recipient of the Dance Critics Association’s Gary Parks Memorial Scholarship for Emerging Writers, and she looks forward to attending the 2011 DCA Conference in Seattle this June.


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