Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bridging the Generational Gap

Town Hall Meeting
Dance NYC
Youth Advisory Committee (YAC)

Monday February 2, 2009

Attending the town hall meeting about bridging the generational gap in the dance community was very interesting and brought up a lot of great points of conversation. Hearing the different experiences of panelists was insightful.

Panelists included:

Laura Bennett (Programs and Operations Director of the American Dance Legacy Institute),
Tim Cynova (interim Managing Director of Misnomer Dance Theater),
Lauren Gibbs (Development Officer for Ballet Hispanico and as a Nonprofit and Development Consultant),
Laura Glenn (faculty at Juilliard and Artistic Director of the White Mountain Summer Dance Festival),
Risa Jaroslow (Artistic Director of Risa Jaroslow & Dancers),
Iquail Shaheed (Artistic Director of DANCE IQUAIL!),
and Paul Singh (freelance dancer and Founder of Singh & Dance)
and our Moderator for the Panel Discussion was Robert Dorf (Managing Director for Susan Marshall & Company)

Of the seven panelists at the meeting, the one that I found myself identifying with the most was Paul Singh. Paul is 23 years old, a recent college graduate of The University of Illinois who moved to New York City three years ago. Self described (jokingly) as the coined MMDW (Male Modern Dance Whore), Paul has danced for 23 different choreographers in that short amount of time. Simultaneously, he has embarked on the arduous journey of showing his own choreography at self-producing venues such as Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), The Queens Museum, Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) and Judson Memorial Church (including an upcoming show this weekend 2/9/09). And like me he also survives half his week off of the generous free meals provided by the restaurant where he works.

The reason I most identified with Paul (besides the closeness in age) is because of the “defined model” that he explained he saw himself following.This model is the same that I have begun and also envision myself following as well; College, move to New York, dance in a company or produce work, Graduate School, then teach at a University or have your own company if you would like to. (Great minds think alike, right?)

In speaking to any particular structures or methods that these successful dance professionals found useful in their education and/ or training a few panelists mentioned the same three things.

1. Networking

Tim Cynova explained that in his position as executive director of Parsons Dance, his saving grace was having a group of other “dance executives” in comparable dance companies to meet with and ask the questions he needed to know. Its good to know who to go to for anything from workers compensation to mass mailing postage.

2. Mentor
Most all of the panelists agreed that the single greatest influence in an artist’s life could be the guidance of a mentor. “Having mentors has been key,” commented Laura Bennett. Laura recommends having not just one mentor even, but several from different generations with a variety of background experiences.

Lauren Gibbs, after completing her Masters in Arts Administration soon found herself working in Count Basie Theater of New Jersey. Her executive director was very encouraging of Lauren to mentor with people in all positions of the theater from stage hands to performing artists. Her advice to younger professionals is to “find a place that feels like home where you can be mentored and take your career where you want it to go.”

3. Passion
More than anything else the thread that connected each person in the room was the passion for what it is that we do. Laura Glenn explained that this was a major factor in the survival of dancers of her generation. “Dancers had the intelligence to maintain a poverty mentality realizing that our riches didn’t lie in our pockets but in the work that we produced.” Risa Jaroslow said that we (as dancers and artists) need to survive off of the passion to create and be motivated to do the work because we have to in order to survive.

The meeting was encouraging to the fact that surviving on very little in this profession is possible and that I am not alone. It also showed me that its quite alright (encouraged infact) to ask questions and for guidance from more seasoned professionals along the way.

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