- It begins in the beginning: acknowledging the indigenous people of the L.A. Basin with dance. Five women from Toveema – descendants of the Tongva and Kumeyaay people of Southern California – reflected their profound connections to wind, earth and water. Then we all rose and danced with them – swaying, shuffling our feet to caress the earth.
- We don’t move forward until we acknowledge and name those who came before and are no longer with us. A silent pause reminds us to hold those dance ancestors in our thoughts and in the sacred dance space.
- It’s about peer recognition. Dance/USA’s executive director Amy Fitterer said, “The opportunity to be recognized you your peers is very powerful.”
- And high kicks, like presenter dancer Vivian Nixon, who did a knee to nose kick to introduce her mother, triple threat Debbie Allen, the 2018 Honor Award recipient.
- And it’s about investing in our future. Nixon lists the dozens and dozens of accolades her mom, dancer/choreographer/actor/teacher/director, Allen has received, but says, “When my mom has a spare moment, she takes that time to invest in the community closest to her – nurturing the potential of young dancers at Debbie Allen Dance Academy.”
- It’s also about fixing what’s broken. When 2018 “Ernie” Awardee Carla Perlo saw neighborhood boys throwing stones at the railroad tracks behind Dance Place in Washington, D.C., she built a now-renowned program just for them. The Energizers meet after school and in the summer to create, learn, share, dance, and garden, planting seeds for future generations.
- And it’s about changing perceptions and access for all. Mark Tomasic, associate professor at Santa Monica College, called his former dance partner and 2018 Trustees Award recipient Mary Verdi-Fletcher “the Rosa Parks of Cleveland,” describing how her public protest to make city buses accessible lead to the far reaching Americans With Disabilities Act.
- And it’s about taking your shoes off to sing and dance. When Darrell Brown, senior vice president of U.S. Bank, presented Los Angeles dance icons Lula and Erwin Washington with the 2018 Champion Award, Lula took off her shoes, got the audience standing, singing and clapping “This Little Light of if Mine.”
- And it's about taking in dancers who need a place to stay and giving them something to eat, as Lula Washington has done for decades.
- It’s about real estate. When Carla Perlo, executive director emerita of Dance Place, asked how many in the audience own their own home, studio and theater and not enough people raised their hands, she exhorted, “Invest in yourself. Invest in your future. Buy your home … We have to own the land, we have to stabilize the field and the future. The best time to buy real estate is today. Tomorrow it will be more expensive.”
- It’s about inspiration. For Rachael Inman, artistic director of the Dance Foundation in Birmingham, Ala., “I’m an ‘80s kid. Hearing Debbie Allen speak was so inspiring.” And Etta Hulchin, director of operations at the Dance Loft on 14 in Washington, D.C., also noted how powerful and inspiring each honoree was. “It was nice to feel so connect to the dance community and to me meet so many people that make dance in the USA happen.”
- It's about passing it on. "There’s a sense of intergenerational-ness, of passing the torch with [the honorees], their life works are grounded in nurturing youths. I feel that palpably,” says MK Abadoo, a choreographer, dancer and assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
- It’s about the diversity of the dance field for Leymis Bolanos Wilmott, artistic director for Sarasota (Fla.) Contemporary Dance: “I appreciate the diversity in who was awarded … I feel the conference is pushing boundaries and being welcoming to all forms of dance.”
- It’s about feeling proud. Former Dance/USA honoree, choreographer, director and presenter Gina Gibney says: “I honestly could not be more proud of this community. I see the dance world being lifted up …. This is a little like the Olympics, when [Dance/USA] comes to a city it galvanizes the local dance community.”
- And, it’s about dancing until they cut off the music and turn the lights out.
Collected by Lisa Traiger, who edits From the Green Room, Dance/USA’s online journal, and writes frequently on dance and the performing arts for a variety of publications including Dance, Dance Teacher, Washington Jewish Week and DCDanceWatcher.
2018 Dance/USA Honor Award Recipient Debbie Allen and her award presenter and daughter Vivian Nixon. PC: Runaway Productions
Want to see more photos? Find them here on the Dance/USA Facebook page. Photo credit: Runaway Productions
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