For me, last night’s Dance Discourse Project: Writing About Dance was a powerful and very mixed experience. Mostly I’m feeling grateful. I’m grateful that four dance writers—Rachel Howard, Rita Felciano, Ann Murphy, and Keith Hennessy— for giving us a window into their world. Rachel talked candidly about the nuts and bolts of her role at the Chronicle, Rita and Ann shared beautifully-written and (I thought) quite moving treatises on their roles as critics, and Keith problematized the act of dance writing in a variety of interesting and provocative ways. I’m also grateful to the packed house of dancers, choreographers, writers and presenters who showed up to take part in the conversation—I continued to be thrilled by the wild success of the Dance Discourse Project (and I’m grateful to Mary Armentrout for the wonderful idea).
Last night was also really challenging. There isn’t one single “Bay Area Dance Community,” and when we gather around a theme like media coverage—where there is so much perceived scarcity and competition—our fissures can reveal themselves. It was hard for me not to feel protective and defensive of our panelists, who I really see as public servants. These folks have been advocating for dance, in one way or another, for decades—often with little to no financial reward. Yes, dancers and presenters are frustrated at a lack of coverage, or narrowness of coverage (I include myself in that category). But it’s sad to see us take that out on the writers, when it’s their editors (and the pervasive corporatization and consolidation of mainstream media) that are to blame. That’s why I’m glad Rachel got a chance to demystify her position for us. Our knowledge may not change the reality of coverage, but a little compassion can go a long way.
Most of all, last night was challenging because it was such a huge topic. The conversation was all over the place (and I take responsibility for that since I was helping to moderate it!). The Dance Discourse Project is an (almost absurdly) ambitious undertaking. Each conversation we’ve had (from multiculturalism to multimedia) could easily be its own 5-part series. I see these discussions as openings, and I hope that eventually each one will spawn more dialogue—not just at CounterPULSE, but on blogs and in living rooms and theater lobbies for years to come. So this was a broad opening, and certainly many of the subjects we touched on deserved their own evening.
Even so, our conversation was limited. The dialogue was heavily tilted towards journalistic print media, and we weren’t able to delve into performative writing or other forms of dance writing such as biographies, books, and academic discourse. Mary and I wanted to include in our panel the most prominent writers in the Bay Area (biggest papers, biggest circulation), while also including actual dancers who write for peer publications. But in that effort, we sacrificed a certain amount of diversity. It was an all-white panel, and there is so much dance and dance writing (from “so you think you can dance” to YouTube and from Facebook to Twitter) that was NOT represented. I’m sure we’ll touch on this topic in a future Dance Discourse Project, and I’d love your suggestions about who to include next time.
Rachel mentioned some of the CounterPULSE blog, including an exchange about Paige Sorvillo’s show here last year. Here’s the link to that conversation. I think it’s a really good example of the kind of thoughtful, critical dialogue that can be made possible by the internet under the right circumstances, so I hope you’ll check it out.
And with that, I’ll close and invite you—whether you were here last night or not—to leave your comments. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
PS—please keep checking back in to this conversation—we’ll have the audio file uploaded soon, and Ann Murphy has promised to post the text of her thoughtful opening remarks as well.