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Sage Awards "State of the Field" address

This "State of the Field" address was given by Patrick Scully on October 11, 2011 at the invitation of the Sage Awards Committee, at the Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis.

All dancers live on the threshold of chucking it. That was Judith Jameson in the NYTimes December 1976. When I read this, I was 23, just beginning my dance life. She was the diva at Ailey, and dancing duets with Barishnikov. Judith, if you think this, how do the rest of us carry on?

I am here tonight to talk about the state of dance in Minnesota, with some historical and personal perspective. Looking back over nearly 40 years I believe: The only thing you can count on in this field is change.

Let me explain by looking at dancers and dance institutions. I'll start with dancers because dancers are primary. The entire field exists because of dancers. If you are going to dance, count on change. (spill coins)

So what's changed for dancers since the 70s? Every five years, half of my dancing peers have quit. All dancers live on the threshold of chucking it, and eventually most of us do.

What about dance institutions? We create institutions so the work can continue when individuals move on. Do institutions fare any better?

Let's consider 3 kinds of institutions: Dance education, dance venues, and dance funders. There is good news to report in dance education in Minnesota. Our own DEC tracks statistics that bear this out: There are more people teaching dance in schools and colleges in Minnesota than ever before. We are just getting started here, and nationally we have even farther to go! 3% of US elementary schools and 12% of secondary schools teach dance. Over 90% of our schools teach music. This leaves enormous room for dance to continue to grow.

Time has not been kind to dance studios. I can think of only 3 studios that were teaching dance classes forty years ago that still teach: MDT, NHDC and CTC. Most dance studios eventually chuck it.

Do dance venues fare any better? The only venues still around that were here then are Northrup, Walker, and Benedicta Arts Center in St. Joseph. Most dance venues chuck it, those that survive, renovate.

But tonight venues deserve some closer attention.

I think our field needs an EPA to require an EIS any time a significant change is proposed to the environment. Changes impact the whole ecosystem. Such an EIS for this theater would have a best case scenario and a worst case scenario. Best case: this place generates unprecedented excitement for dance, spurring growth for the entire local dance scene for decades. Worst case: for 2 years the Cowles presents local dance, with subsidies. During that time other venues suffer the loss of those same local dancers on their stages, and close. The subsidies that supported local dance at the Cowles dry up, and, without the subsidy, most local dance can not afford this union house. The Cowles Center joins the other theater jewels on Hennepin Avenue, the Pantages, State and Orpheum - beautiful, but inaccessible to our community.

I hope the first picture I painted comes true, but I also fear the latter could. We must collectively and individually make sure that our ships all rise together. I am not thinking only about this stage as I say this. I'd love to stop the demolition of the Ordway's McKnight Theater.

I'd love to resuscitate the Southern, just like we rebuilt the 35W bridge, fixed the metrodome roof and bailed out the banks, and carmakers.

This brings me to the last group of dance institutions tonight: funders. Public, foundation, and corporate. Good news on the public front. The legacy amendment directs more state dollars to the arts than ever in MN.

News on the foundation front is mixed. Halleluia! We have the McKnight Foundation. But we lost the Bush Foundation. If I had 11 minutes tonight instead of ten, I would take a minute of silence to mourn the death of the Bush Choreographer Fellowships. The Bush Foundation chucked dancers.

News from the corporate funding world over these years is the worst.

The transition from the DH Foundation to Target Foundation marked a shift of motivation from philanthropy to marketing, and marketing rarely supports anything transgressive. A few years back Target Foundation offered a sizable grant to the Fringe Festival, but first Target required the name of one of the shows to be changed. The Fringe valued artistic freedom more than Target's money, and said "No".

We can not allow funders to censor our artistic content. When we do... a dance presenter from Tulsa told me because of conservative funders, he can not print posters with bare chested male dancers, and he worries about dance belts being too visible under tights. (Would they rather we not wear dance belts?) We need to be willing/ready to chuck corporate funders. and dance belts.

For nearly 40 years, change is the only thing we can count on in this field.

Keeping this in mind, I have two suggestions to brighten our community's future: (I created these for dancers, and last night at rehearsal someone said, what about people who aren't dancers? There are no such people.

If you don't think of yourself as a dancer stop deluding yourself. According to Wikipedia Dance refers to movement of the body as a form of expression, social interaction or presentation. If you still don't think that of yourself as a dancer, then I don't know what to say, Yes I do, hang out with and support someone who does.

  1. 1. Keep dancing, our hearts and souls live in our bodies.
  2. 2. Contribute to the field, to the common good, if you can.

It would be great if the field were so rich, that we could all just dance, but we are not there yet. Be pro-active, and be reactive. The reactive part is noticing things in the status quo that piss you off, and challenging them. This can be as simple as Refusing to dance on concrete, or daring to ask to be paid.

A quick reactive story: For their grand reopening, Patrick's Cabaret got lots of Walker promo material, and a request to display it to our patrons. Cool. I put it in our entry way. Then I call Walker to ask who I should send our materials to: "Well unfortunately the building's new design.." blah blah blah. All the ships have to rise together. Keep working on this one, Walker! Creative solutions must be found. The Cowles Center, too, needs to attend to this. The only place here I could leave cards for my last show was in a corner that no one walks past anymore. I was told, "well unfortunately the building's new design".. blah blah broken record blah.. You, We can do better! Creative solutions can be found and all our ships will rise together.

It is easy to stay stuck in reacting to the status quo. Pro-active contributions to the field are even more important. We must Dream the things we want, that do not yet exist, and bring them into being. That's what we do as artists, invent new ideas, create new models.

New things? Yes, new things, new ideas, new models. It could be related to things I have touched on tonight, like education, venues, and funding, or in other areas like dance companies, rehearsal schedules, company policies, dance forms, developing patrons, set, lighting, costume or sound design, community organizations, teacher training, audience development, public policy, pr and marketing, administration, dance writing, criticism, theory, dance history, documentation, preservation, related fields like somatics or things so new that they do not yet have a name. 40 years ago there was no contact improvisation. All of the areas I just mentioned will benefit from fresh new approaches.

Judith started the choreographers' evenings, Dana started an e mail newsletter, Stuart started an awards ceremony, Linda started a circle for dancer/writers, I started a performing space where you don't have to audition, We all did this because something we needed was missing locally. That's what we do, we create.

Remember: "What was it that brought you to dance in the first place?" and continue to value that, dare to speak truth to power, and enrich our world, with the dances you dance and the changes you bring to our field.

On this night of dance awards, in this ever changing field, remember, the external Awards are few, but the intrinsic rewards are beyond measure.

That's why, I haven't chucked it yet, nor has Judith Jameson.

Thanks. and thanks to Kevin who helped me with this. And now, I turn things here over to Sage award winner Kenna Camara Cottman your mc for the evening.


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