You Can Dance: University Musical Society (UMS)

Organization Name: University Musical Society (UMS)

Department Submitting Recipe: Education & Community Engagement

City: Ann Arbor

Program Name: You Can Dance

Time of Program: Evening (Typically 7:30-9:00 PM)

Program Length: 90 Minutes

Goal: “You Can Dance” is a community dance master class for ages 13 and up. UMS encourages broad participation, and each class is a mix of people of different ages and abilities. The class is hosted at the Ann Arbor Y, and typically attracts adults who are comfortable moving and using their bodies in the context of a fitness center. This class should be tailored to the "curious adult mover" rather than the "experienced dancer.” We aim to create a comfortable environment for curious beginners. Each class lasts 90 minutes and is designed for curious and novice movers to experiment with different choreographic styles. No dance training or experience is necessary, and all levels, ages 13 and up, are welcome. The workshop leverages kinesthetic learning to prepare learners to watch the performance, creating a sense of recognition in the work when they view it. Learners report having a greater sense of understanding about the complexity of choreography, and a greater appreciation for the technique and training required in professional dance. The YMCA provides a setting where adults are already thinking about movement as a part of their fitness routine, and are perhaps more inclined to take risks and try something new.

Time of Year Offered: Throughout the season, in conjunction with dance performances

Program Description:

UMS contracts with a dancer or choreographer from the visiting company to lead a community workshop. The workshop is usually held one or two days before the opening of the performance. Part of the allure of the program is that opportunity to meet and interact with a visiting artist. Our goal with these classes is to deliver movement experiences along with some of the philosophies of the visiting company and the style features of the company’s work. The most successful workshops deliver both movement experimentation and learning about the company. The teacher will need to quickly assess ability levels; often we ask at the beginning of class (by show of hands) who has dance experience and who doesn't. The environment should be comfortable for a participant who wouldn’t necessarily have a dance vocabulary. Visiting artists are provided a prep sheet (attached) that describes the program and its goals. We always reiterate our goals with the workshop leader when they arrive in Ann Arbor. Most classes begin with an extended warm-up that introduces participants to some of the movement styles of the company. We’ve found that participants learn a lot about a particular dance company, dance style, or choreographer by “warming up” in the style of the company. We encourage the workshop leader to teach the participants a short passage of choreography from the work that is being presented in Ann Arbor; it's a great way for learners to inhabit the movement and really appreciate the craft and technique involved. We have also found that this exercise prepares participants to watch the performance and creates a sense of recognition when they see the movement performed by the company. We recommend that whoever teaches this class leaves about 10-15 minutes at the end for questions and reflection. Class is conducted with recorded music (we have an iPod connection, as well as a CD player). [Past workshops have included dancers from Kidd Pivot, Mark Morris Dance Group, Martha Graham Dance Company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Ragamala Dance, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, Ballet Preljocaj, Compagnie Kafig.]

Number of Participants: The ideal size is 30-35. We have gone up to 65 if the room will accommodate a larger group. We recommend having two or more co-facilitators for larger groups.

Target Audience: The program is open to community members, ages 13 and up.

Private/Public Public

Nature of Audience Engagement: The audience is led through a movement warm up and then they dance themselves. They have time to ask questions at the end of the session.

Location: The local branch of the YMCA fitness center.

How Many Staff: 1-2 staff members manage registration and sign in, and introduce the guest workshop leader.

Program Cost: Typically we allocate between $300-$700 for an artist fee/honorarium (which is in addition to major performance fees). At the moment, the YMCA donates their space as part of our collaboration.

Marketing for Program: We publicize broadly in our print and online marketing tools (monthly calendars, postcards, brochures, email marketing, website; more targeted marketing is aimed at ticketbuyers for the associated performance. The YMCA promotes broadly to their email marketing lists and within the building itself which leads to attendance by participants who do not have a UMS affiliation.

Cost for Program Participants: Free, no registration required, sign up is offered 45 minutes before the class begins, first come, first served

Attendance To Date: 300-400

Past Iterations: 12 times over the past 3 years.

What works? The partnership with the Ann Arbor Y has been beneficial for engaging a group of individuals who don't necessarily connect with UMS but are curious about movement. A program partner like the Y can do a lot to extend your reach.

What doesn't work? Be very clear that this is a class for curious/novice/beginner movers. Early on, we had a number of dances students (teen and college) who would show up for class expecting an advanced masterclass. They were disappointed by the beginner-level movement, and our beginners were intimidated by having trained, experienced dancers in the room with them. Maintaining a casual and accessible environment is extremely important. Be prepared: experienced dancers will complain; do your best to find alternate activities that connect with them on their advanced level.

Performances Where Offered: We try to offer this program for as many dance performances as possible. Sometimes the artists are not available.

Past Research on Program: During the EDA grant period, we created an impact survey in collaboration with WolfBrown ( The survey is delivered to participants via email/web shortly after the workshop.

Continuing Program? Yes, we plan to continue the program. We like that we are able to engage the community in dance outside of our theaters.

Resources & Links:

We are working out some technical difficulties related to this field. Check back by late October for any additional comments provided by this EDA grantee.
Please note that Supplemental Materials for many of the grantee projects are available via Google Drive, at this link:

Target Audiences General Audiences

Event Formats Workshops: for audiences to learn something about the art form or art Participatory Engagement Methods: involving the audience in activities such as dancing or choreographing

Online Engagement In person

Social Bonding Aspects With artists - meeting a choreographer, dancers With peer audience members