Dance/USA’s Opening Night Celebration Moves Audience


2018 Conference Honors Leaders in the Field

By Haley Kostas

Opening night wasn’t just a celebration of honors and dance, but a performance in itself. Give a performer a stage, and anything goes. On Wednesday evening, June 6, everything went! Dance/USA knows how to build a lineup that pulls us all together, a lineup that gets us out of our seats, literally. From the unexpected opening song and dance, performed by original descendants of the indigenous Los Angeles basin people, the Tongva and Kumeyaay, who didn’t just bring culture and heritage to our feet, but allowed us to participate in ocean movements and earth groundings of traditions, by celebrating the city of Los Angeles through the history of dance … this wasn’t your average conference opener, this was an immersive experience. 

There’s no better way to kick off honoring the awardees than with a leg. A high leg aka battement from presenter Vivian Nixon, daughter of awardee Debbie Allen, executive producer, director, choreographer, author, dancer and actor; and founder and artistic director of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles. It is safe to say we will remember her name. Allen’s work has continuously focused on bringing her talents back to the community, making dance and dance opportunities accessible to all. Her dedication to dance and the beautification of community are what make her incomparable, as is her legacy. “I drew breath with the first moment of life with dance,” said Allen, and that is exactly what she brings to dance. 

Christopher K. Morgan, artistic/executive director of Dance Place in Washington, D.C., introduced awardee Carla Perlo as “such a force.” Perlo, founding director of emerita of Dance Place, doesn’t know “no.” Perlo’s conviction and work is undeniable and has brought in diverse perspectives throughout the dance community. Using her magic to connect and collaborate by finding the dancer in everyone she meets, and bringing dance to everything she does, Perlo’s “soft-strong” attitude makes her an unstoppable doer; asking us all to invest in ourselves. She left us with her words, “We must own the land.”

Mark Tomasic, associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College, introduced awardee Mary Verdi-Fletcher with raw vulnerability, sharing how “she changed the way society views dance.” Verdi-Fletcher, president/founding artistic director of Dancing Wheels Company & School in Cleveland, is a trailblazing advocate for people who live with a disability. Her work toward physically integrated dance and the creation of equal opportunities for dancers with disabilities has challenged our perspective of what we knew to be dance. Verdi’s courage and vulnerability inspires and creates awareness throughout the world of dance; reminding us that dance is for all, that we are limitless, and that we must all “just keep going.”

Closing out our awardees for the night with none other than the relentlessly authentic duo of Lula and Erwin Washington, co-founders and artistic director and executive director, respectively, of Los Angeles-based Lula Washington Dance Theatre, left us on “higher ground.” And that was just as presenter Darrell Brown, senior vice president of U.S. Bank, said they would. The monumental support of the “edgy” husband and wife duo was shared by their audience and community, to even Brown, their own personal banker … their work not only continues to bridge the gap for dancers in the dance community, but joins the community through dance inside and out. “We can help the world know dance in L.A.” said Erwin Washington. Lula followed with generous gratitude and honored past and present artists who kept and are still keeping the art of dance alive through her teachings and guidence. She shared that “if one of us succeeds, we all succeed.” Her words remind us all that we can support someone else’s dream and still accomplish our own, inviting us all to get along. 

A night that can only be described as indescribably unexpected, the 2018 Opening Night Celebration was all the things for everyone! From a video “glitch” turned into a “Fame” sing-a-long, audience members spontaneously joined together in “I’m gonna live forever/Baby, remember my name,” to singing the call-and-response of “We Are Family” led by a barefoot dancing Lula Washington teaching us all not to take ourselves too seriously, Dance/USA’s leaders know how to move an audience. literally move an audience. Through the inclusiveness and diversity represented by these five pioneers of dance, it was more than relatable, it was relevant, it was needed, and it was community. Dance/USA has created opportunities for everyone to be celebrated, shared, and supported through the art of dance. 

Haley Kostas is a dancer, choreographer, educator, and writer based out of the United States. Haley attended the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. She has served as an adjunct professor at the UMKC Dance Conservatory, a faculty member at Kansas City Ballet, and has trained in the UK at the London Contemporary Dance School. Haley’s experience and work in concert and commercial dance are represented by Kansas City Ballet, Odyssey Dance Theater, Soulescape, Royal Flux, Flight of the Concords, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and the feature film DANCE-OFF. Haley is the founder/director of Defy Dance Project, writer of Off Center Words e-journal, and is currently creating new works along with working alongside the Barton sisters, Cherice and Charissa, on the development of BartonMovement. 

Photo: Ben Doyle, Runaway Productions

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