Dallas — Nearly two weeks ago, I moderated a panel at CentralTrak: the UT Dallas Artist Residency Program on the State of Dance with panelists Mark Lowry (of TheaterJones), Joshua Peugh (of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), and Jamie Thompson (of Dallas Black Dance Theatre). During the discussion, one of the issues brought up was the lack of readily available dance resources for local dancers, choreographers, and teachers. What we are missing in Dallas is a coalition, a collection, a cooperative, for dance artists and art-makers to gravitate toward and share resources: be those educational, or practical, like rehearsal space needs and funding avenues.
While reaching a desired end of goal of creating a group that would provide such necessities might take a little while (or a long time, if we’re being honest), I started to look around and gather together some websites that get me thinking. Because while, yes, we are lacking in cooperative learning models in the Dallas dance scene, we are all working toward a similar goal: creating something beautiful. That’s what all dancers, choreographers, and teachers are trying to do; we are all trying to make something happen. And in that desire, we tend to find ourselves doing the same old thing over and over and over again, or copying someone else (without even realizing we actually are). It’s in that copying, in that regurgitation of material, that we can find ourselves in hot water. We find something that inspires us, and we think, I can do that better. I’ll just make it bigger, flashier, more “me,” but I’ll use the same music. I’ll show the world how this piece should have been.
When you’ve reached that point in your creative process: stop. Right now. Stop. Turn off the music, put down your notepad, tell your dancers to take a break, and give yourself a little love tap. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop and listen—to Albert Einstein.
The wise one said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”
That’s the truth, and if you’ve read any books on the choreographic or creative process, they will tell you the same thing. It’s perfectly fine to be inspired by someone, to take an idea or concept, run with it, and put your own flavor on it. But it is not prudent to borrow wholly and without acknowledgement. It’s foolish. Instead, take the concept that you are so drawn to, dissect and deconstruct it to its vital parts, and from there, from that disseminated point of view, find out what you are actually attracted to. Then take that idea, and flip it. How can you make that nugget your own? It’s there that you will find true inspiration, and it’s there that you will be able to reach a place of originality.
If you’re looking for some creative inspiration, check out UbuWeb for Dance. UbuWeb is a completely independent resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde, ethnopoetics, and outsider arts. All materials on UbuWeb are being made available for noncommercial and educational use only. All rights belong to the authors. In other words, do not steal. But do watch, open your mind, relax, tune in, and then tune it all out. Giving credit where credit is due.
From that headspace, you might just find yourself overcoming the obstacle that frightens us all: mediocrity. “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius,” said Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Valley of Fear, the seventh book in the Sherlock Holmes series.
We know when we see something we like, and when we see something good. If you’re a teacher, you guide your students into learning how to recognize those traits too. But we sometimes forget them when we’re creating, and we mustn’t. The example we set for ourselves will become our rule, and we should strive to make that as authentic as we can.
One of the ways to do that is to become involved in and aware of groups that currently exist to support performers. We have the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), which is a national service, advocacy and professional organization for presenters of the performing arts. APAP is dedicated to developing and supporting a robust performing arts industry and the professionals who work within it. Dance/USA works toward sustaining and advancing professional dance by addressing the needs, concerns, and interests of artists, administrators, and organizations. By providing national leadership and services, Dance/USA enhances the infrastructure for dance creation and distribution, education, and dissemination of information. There is also the National Performance Network (NPN). NPN is about community engagement, touring, creating, sharing ideas, and knowledge. NPN is about representing all artists who create something new and supporting the presenters who take the risk in showcasing it.
I was lucky enough to be chosen in 2010 to present my work at the annual NPN conference, which was held in Dallas. I was selected as one of five local artists to present an original work for a panel of arts administrators, theatre owners, and critics. A show was commissioned by Teatro Dallas out of that performance, and thus was born DGDG: the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. We are midway through our third year, and are happy and healthy, so I can attest to the power that becoming involved locally and nationally can do for your creativity and career.
These are just a few of the networks available, many more exist and you can find such groups on a very small scale in most urban cities. We have one in Dallas, the Dance Council, but its reach does not always meet the needs of the younger, emerging artists—that’s the space that longs to be filled.
The first step would be to locate funding sources. Try a Kickstarter campaign or other crowd-funding source, or go old school and write a grant. There are websites after websites with listings of funding sources, and the Foundation Center offers a listing of grant-maker websites, funding trends, guides to funding, and proposal writing. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies is a directory for state arts and regional arts organizations, and includes essays on featured topics from policy to practice. Finally, there is always the tried-and-true National Endowment for the Arts. Or maybe you are looking for agent. Nationally, check out Cadence Arts Network, Elite Dance Artists Management, National Association of Performing Arts Managers & Agents, and Pentacle.
Just remember, “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing,” said Gertrude Stein.
These are words I need to learn to follow in my own life, but that’s for another article. What I think Stein is approaching here, is taking time to just live and be, which can be extremely difficult in our daily lives. Doing nothing is the hardest thing to do. So maybe, to find an entry way into this mode of thinking, start by watching dance videos until you dream about movement, or looking through the dance sub-Reddits (here and here) while you’re at work, in between classes and student meetings, or at your cubicle, or on your break from your daily grind.
Do the things you like. Take time for yourself. Get out of town. Take a mental health vacation. And have fun. Just always remember to have fun. We’re talking about dance here. It’s meant to entertain, both the audience and you. Just remember to never forget about you.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com (although for May, it was fourth Sunday).
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