by Catherine L. Tully
Each year dance professionals from all over the US (and beyond) gather to talk about subjects that are central to the field, and this year approximately 500 of them met up in Kansas City for Dance/USA’s 9th annual conference – and 35th anniversary. Held from June 7th to June 10th, this group came together to network, train, discuss issues, bond with one another, and watch dance.
If you are not familiar with Dance/USA, they are a service organization that works to sustain and advance the world of professional dance at all levels – from executive directors and arts leaders, to working artists – and everyone in-between. The conference provides a forum for those involved in this arena to share best practices, talk about current events and attitudes, and examine and explore solutions to problems, as well as discuss new horizons in the field.
Kansas City provided a lovely backdrop for this year’s conference, and it’s always amazing to get an up-close look at another city’s arts scene. With events taking place at venues such as the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Union Station, and the National World War I Museum, there was certainly plenty to see.
Kansas City Ballet is located in the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity, a rehabbed building that was previously used to generate steam and electricity from burning coal. It’s unique design preserved some of the old coal chutes and architecture, while updating it for modern-day dance studio and administrative use. Registration took place here, along with other sessions throughout the conference. Adhering to the “campus-style” approach that has been so successful, the shifting venues allow conference-goers the chance to delve a bit more deeply into the cultural offerings the host city has to offer.
There were a wide range of things to experience throughout the course of the conference, including an opening night celebration, breakout sessions, dance performances, and discussions. Especially memorable was this year’s Opening Plenary guest speaker, Jane Chu, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Listen to her address the attendees here:
Opportunities at the Dance/USA conference range from practical, hands-on sessions, to discussions about more abstract ideas and ideals. This year the programming centered around themes such as equity and inclusion, social responsibility, technological change, and financing, but there were plenty of other topics that were brought to the table as well.
Those who have gone to a Dance/USA conference are familiar with the networking opportunities it provides. Here you have some time that is specifically set aside for your growth, and in addition to all the activities going on around you, there is also some space to learn from one another by having lively discussions over drinks or dinner. To talk to a fellow professional about what is going on in dance in another part of the country. To form friendships that will last, and rekindle ones that have not been tended to in a while.
On a personal note – I’m often chided by dance friends in Chicago that the only chance they have to spend time with me is when we are far away from home at one of the dance conferences. I think I may not be the only person that gets this friendly jab – time is something that is so hard to come by when you’re involved in this field. There is always something to do, somewhere you should be, and things that are demanding your attention. (Plus, I’m a pretty serious introvert.)
Along those lines, the highlight of my trip this year was a barbecue dinner with the “Chicago Contingent” as we sometimes refer to ourselves. We passed plates, shared food, drank some, and spent quality time together. Every time we do this, I find myself wondering why we don’t do it more often at home. Then life gets going again and we all go our separate ways for a while…
But…there’s always next year’s conference…
Dance/USA 2018 will take place from June 6 – June 9 in Los Angeles.
Disclosure: 4dancers attended the Dance USA Conference on a press pass granted by the organization, but no monetary compensation was received for coverage of the event. All transportation, lodging, and meals were paid for by 4dancers.