Building a Dance-literate Public

March 11, 2013

American Dance Legacy Initiative’s Mini-Fest opens on Friday night, March 15th, at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.  This event is ADLI’s annual opportunity to gather together its wide-ranging community of dancers, educators, and advocates to celebrate a year’s worth of accomplishments, and to share our work with the public in our local community here in Rhode Island. The weekend begins with a dance concert on Friday and Saturday nights, featuring dancers from Brown, Rhode Island, and professional companies in New York performing works that span nine decades of American dance.  On Saturday, March 16th, ADLI hosts a day of programming for dancers and non-dancers alike to explore dance as a medium for exploring heritage, building community, and communicating ideas, with events that include a master dance class, a lecture-demonstration on access and literacy in the arts, and showings of creative work by several of ADLI’s community partners.  Installations of these projects, including work by high schoolers, a local artist with Parkinson’s Disease, and highlights from ADLI’s collection of dance Etudes, will be on display at the Granoff through March 22nd.  

This is my second year working with ADLI as a graduate student project coordinator through the Brown Center for Public Humanities, where ADLI is housed.  I am thrilled to be a part of producing this year’s Mini-Fest – in part because I am conscious of the challenge facing us in inviting people to come take part in a weekend of dance-related activities. The work presented in this year’s Mini-Fest highlight the surprisingly broad impact that dance education can have, and broaden the definition of what it means to “understand” and “appreciate” modern dance as a part of cultural life.  

In the project I was most involved with, my collaborators are high school students from Central Falls, RI who are certainly outside the traditional demographic of modern dance aficionados.  Some of them frankly express that the mid-20th century style of José Limón’s choreography, which we explore in our project, is not their preferred type of dance.  But by engaging seriously with Limón’s work on its own terms, they have developed a healthy respect for its physical and intellectual rigor as an artistic statement, and they have honed their own ability to express themselves clearly, thoughtfully, and with passion – in their own styles of dance, as well as in discussing and curating their ideas for the public – as a result.

The 2013 Mini-Fest showcases these kinds of transformative engagements happening repeatedly across the wide range of ADLI’s activities.  In a project by Artists and Scientists as Partners (ASAP), dancers with Parkinson’s and autism investigate the possibilities of creative movement and visual arts based on dances from ADLI’s Repertory Etudes Collection.  Professional dancers in ADLI’s network share the evolution of their own creative practice through their experiences as educators and performers, and through collaborating on the continued development of ADLI’s methodology and living archive of great American dance works.

While I came to Brown with a personal affection for dance (born of years of childhood ballet lessons), for many people dance, especially modern dance, throws up a barrier of confusion and intimidation that makes it in some ways the step-child and in other ways the most exalted of the arts.  Dance is simultaneously physically challenging and aggressively intimate, an obstacle to participation (“I can’t do it!”); and mysteriously coded in an expressive language that seems hard for outsiders to understand (“I don’t get it!”).  ADLI, founded in 1993 by dance pioneers and sisters Carolyn Adams and Julie Adams Strandberg, strives to address both challenges: bridging the widespread perception of dance as an inaccessible insider art form, by working to make great works of dance accessible, learnable, and relevant to dancers and non-dancers alike.  The Mini-Fest, as our largest public event, marks ADLI’s most concentrated promotion of dance as an insightful lens on American heritage and a cultural resource relevant and accessible to anyone, regardless of their ability to execute (or identify) a grand jêté.
Our hope is that, in addition to sharing the experiences of people involved year-round in ADLI’s activities, the Mini-Fest will offer a similar discovery of the possibilities in dance for everyone who attends.  Whether as a participant in class with Limón Dance Company director Carla Maxwell, as an audience member at the Concert, or as a visitor tweeting comments about the installations in the Granoff’s Living Room Galleries, the Mini-Fest is our invitation to everybody to expand your notion of what it means to appreciate dance.  Go ahead.  Take the leap!

Guest blog written by MA in Public Humanities candidate, Emily McCartan, class of 2013.

Find the full schedule of Mini-Fest events here:
Purchase tickets for the dance concert on March 15th or 16th!
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