by Lizzie Leopold
If this were real life I would shake your hand, say “nice to meet you” and maybe we would exchange phone numbers. But here we are in the vast spaces of the internet. So, think of this blog as a virtual hand shake.
I’m Lizzie Leopold, choreographer, writer, scholar and social media enthusiast and these are my thoughts on the “Business of Making Dance.” The intersection of dance and business is busy, fast-paced and highly dangerous, so fasten your seat-belts.
This past week I attended the annual Dance/USA Conference in Chicago, the largest gathering of dance professionals in the country. I attended as student (as a PhD candidate at Northwestern University), as an Artistic Director and choreographer (Leopold Group), as a part of a dance service organization (Audience Architects), a social media manger (SeeChicagoDance) and as an all-around dance nerd. I left inspired, confused, clarified and exhausted.
I was inspired by opening speaker and writer Pico Iyer. Drawing on his experience as a world traveler, he reminded me that dance is my home, “shards of culture creating a stained glass home.” He spoke of the cross pollination of cultures and ideas. Here begins the recurring theme of intersections. I began with dance and business but what the Conference truly illuminated was the importance of these virtual, metaphoric and literal networks: share ideas, business cards, tech secrets and even stages.
Next was a session with technology and stress-management consultant Jennifer Edwards. (Those two fields denote another complicated and essential intersection.) She shared strong opinions about an intuitive approach to social media platforms. It was a necessary reminder that doing it because “all the cool kids are” didn’t work in high school and it doesn’t work now. Make these tools work for you and your purpose. And if they don’t, move on.
Here’s where the exhaustion starts to set in (the most satisfying of exhaustions). Research consultants at WolfBrown presented results on a study of Engaging Dance Audiences, 60% of which are dancers themselves. This is both wonderful and terrifying. I love that we are all supporting each other, but are we also chasing our tails? As dancers we spend so much time in a closed room starring at ourselves in mirrors. I am worried that if 60% of audiences are fellow dancers, this is just one more reflective surface. That other 40% desperately wants more context: program notes, introductions from the stage, etc. Let’s give it to them! We need them.
The conference ended with inspiration once more, from author and speaker Patricia Martin. How does dance stay relevant and important in this tumultuous time? “Teach us to fly,” she says simply. Inspire.
Now it is my turn and I better get to work.
Contributor Lizzie Leopold is a dancer, dance maker and dance scholar. She holds a BFA in dance from the University of Michigan and a Masters in Performance Studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, with thesis work titled Choreography and Commerce: Tracking the Business of Dance Through the Rite(s) of Spring . In fall 2011 she will begin work on an Interdisciplinary PhD in Theater and Drama Studies at Northwestern University, continuing to focus on the intersection of dance and business, both historically and theoretically. Her writing has been presented at the Congress on Research in Dance 2011 Special Topics Conference, Dance and American Studies, and the Cultural Studies Association Conference 2011. She is also a contributor to the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University blog writing about their dance performance series.
Lizzie is the founder and Artistic Director for the Leopold Group, a Chicago based not-for-profit modern dance company. She was awarded Best Choreography for Green Eyes, a new kind of musical in the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival and has been in residence at the Workspace for Choreographers’ Artists Retreat in Sperryville, Virigina and at the Chicago Cultural Center through DanceBridge. In addition to choreographing, Leopold has danced with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She also works for Audience Architects (www.audiencearchitects.com, www.seechicagodance.com) , a service organization working to build audiences for dance in Chicago, and is working to launch the New Books Network Dance Channel podcast. She currently serves on the Alumni Board of Governors at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater and Dance.