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Welcome: Hopes for 2017

Jan/Feb In DanceWhat awaits? A simple question that involves speculation, hope, worry and certainly doing much of what is always done—work with what we have, while doing what we love. While I imagine what awaits, it felt vital to ask Dancers’ Group’s staff what their hopes are as they begin a new year.

Mine is—throughout 2017, find time to participate in life’s wonderfully awkward moments that inform my work and provide the laughter and tears that make life so grand. —Wayne Hazzard, Executive Director

I closed the door to 2016 and open the door to 2017. Before entering I remind myself that the hard work is just beginning. I feel in myself a superabundance of energy, which finds no outlet in a quiet life. Even energy runs out at one point, so for that reason I want to focus on how and where I use my energy. My biggest investments will always be my family, friends and dance—my trinity of happiness. In 2017 I hope to build my family up to their highest potential, enrich my friendships, and continue my allegiance to the powers of Dance. —Edgar Mendez, Artist Resources Manager

I hope for sore muscles, sand on my feet and good books to read. I hope to see my family more often. I hope for the pain to stop so I can dance again. I hope for self-discovery, patience, and courage. I hope for new friendships.

I hope for all of us to disconnect and value silence and introspection. I hope for the city I live in to become affordable again. I hope for something real to be done about the people in the streets. I hope for 2016 not to be the precursor of a downward spiral. I hope for perspective, dialogue and kindness. I hope for more doing. I hope for the warrior in all of us to awaken. —Natalia Velarde, Program Assistant

I recently watched Rick Prelinger’s Lost Landscapes of San Francisco at the Castro Theater, an annual event now in its 11th year. Over a thousand people filled in the seats: we all watched with nostalgia and awe at shaky home videos, old street views, parades, and fog from the 1930s-80s—light leaks, film clutter, scratches, lint and all. This brief experience left me reeling so to speak; enveloped by the past and in community, I thought about 2017. Yet another year in the existence of this city. A new year.

I hope to observe—record, capture, listen to, admire—2017, via our city (our artists, our landscapes, our families, our dances) with the wonder I felt looking onto the beauty of the past. How can we witness and emulate 2017, in all its textures, imperfections, and beauty? —Melissa Lewis, Administrative Assistant

In the close of 2016, I felt forceful waves of change repeatedly crash before me personally, communally, and societally. The instinctive, physical response I experience is to close my eyes, retreat, flinch. I have discovered that this discomfort with change is more palpable lately than in my recent history, and I feel others struggling with similar and varying pains of their own.

As 2017 arrives, I hope to refocus my energy on cultivating an ability to navigate ever-shifting surroundings for both myself and others. I hope to remember and remind that there is power in any gesture made with empathy, and that change can be met not by mourning losses but by readjusting to the potential of a future sculpted from pillars of the past and driven by love. I hope we come together. I hope to dance more — let’s take class! —Chloë Zimberg, Administrative Assistant

More than all else, may the tide turn toward love, justice, and joy. May we be patient with ourselves, yet urgent in our work. May our art help carry us through. —Michelle Lynch Reynolds, Program Director

In the Bag

I was driving to radiation for breast cancer when I heard an interview with Eve Ensler, feminist, playwright, performer, social activist. The title of Eve’s interview was “The Body After Cancer.” Eve, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” had very aggressive uterine cancer. And though it nearly killed her she described it as an opportunity to truly live in her body for the first time.

I had been feeling the opposite: outside of my body looking in. I was in denial before the diagnosis. I was embarrassed by the invasive biopsies and mammograms. I cried on my way to surgery. I didn’t want to live in this body. I wanted to check out. I lost my wiry, thick hair and was spidery thin. Even my blood volume was shrinking. I felt like I was dragging a large dead animal behind me every time I mounted the stairs. I knew I was a dancer by Martha Graham’s standards: more than 10 years in the making. So how did I end up a zombie shadow of my former dancerly self?

Eve elaborated on the experience of being completely in her body, talked about cancer giving her perspective on what was really important to her. Something she said struck a nerve and I found myself sitting up at attention: “Capitalism engineers longing. This is not an accident. If we were content with our lives, it would be very hard to control us.” My inner rebel was ruffled. What’s controlling me, I wondered? Who’s cashing in on my insecurities? Is my cancer, burrowing its way into my bosom, a condition of the heart? How long had my body been sculpting that tumor? How had that tumor been sculpting my longing?

What do I want, I asked myself? What do I really long for?
I knew exactly what it was: a handbag.

With my dancer and teacher’s salary I have mostly avoided the upscale boutiques increasingly encroaching on our Mission District residence. But on a few occasions when I was going through cancer treatment, I had to splurge. Call it retail therapy, capitalism-engineered-longing, or living as if each day might be my last.

On one such day I got up the courage to walk into a handbag boutique, down the street, I had been eyeing for years. I was hiding my chemo-bald head under a fake fur hat with ears, as if I were some eccentric, rich cat lady. The man behind the desk looked up with kind eyes. “Welcome. I’m Basil. We make everything downstairs.”

In fact, I had a near-perfect handbag that I’d bought a while back for the hefty sum of $25, a thrift store splurge. But it was coming apart. I asked Basil if he had anything like it. He started to draw. Suggestions of pockets, flaps, magnets and straps were added to his hand-drawn design. I told him I was a dancer. It needed to convert to a backpack so it could rest just so beneath my shoulder blades. He laughed, “Then you’d better dance your ass off.” He wrote down the price: $575.

The rich cat lady in me lunged forward with my credit card in hand. When I got home I immediately confessed my outrageous purchase to my husband and kids who shared my sticker shock, especially considering that I had nothing except a drawing of a handbag to show for it. Part of me felt ashamed. Part of me didn’t care. Part of me thought I deserved it.

I visited Basil and the handbag-in-process regularly over the next several weeks. As he stained and hole-punched the leather straps I told him about cancer. He affectionately called me a cancer dancer. He asked me what I was working on. I told him I was starting to work on a new piece about the connection between capitalism and longing inspired by Eve Ensler.

The handbag was finally finished. It turned out even better than I expected. Basil donned the design the “Rowena Bag.” I continued to drop in from time to time, bringing egg tarts from the no-frills Grand Mission Bakery. Basil made us coffee and we chatted about art and life and death.

Over Christmas break I received an email from Basil. He told me his husband Graham had a family foundation. They needed to give away some money. They wanted to give me $1,000 to put towards my show. I couldn’t believe how this purse splurge was paying off.

And it was a good thing because the $5,000 of funding and production support I had secured to pay my assembled collaborators fell through. But we embraced our longing to make art without capital and persisted.

Then on my 46th birthday, I found a wallet in Dolores Park.

There was no ID in the wallet. There was a wad of cash. I counted out $355 and some loose change.

I brought the money into rehearsal to use as a prop. The money smelled like smoke, a blend of stale joints that were also stashed in the wallet, and the sage I burned to rid the cash of any bad juju. I pledged to put it to good use.

My collaborators and I were still $3,645 shy of our projected budget, but dreams and a story unfolded around the surprise Christmas gift from Basil, and the birthday money from Dolores Park. We began to wonder, were we in the red? Or were we coming out ahead?

We were moving, anyways. Right into a church. When I told my pastor Maggi Henderson of Old First Presbyterian Church that I was persisting with the project, she offered to chip in. “We don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “But we have space.”

In Old First’s stained-glass sanctuary, the emerging piece morphed into a service.

We considered giving the $355 away in a reverse offering, passing a plate full of money to be distributed. We envisioned dropping the bills from a balcony, “twenties from heaven.” We rewrote the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s how we started:

Our Dollar which art in pocket
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On Earth led by the G7

I also began a more earnest prayer practice. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu prayers, and the wisdom of Susan O’Malley through her book Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self. Each morning prayer session ends with an O’Malley affirmation such as THE HARDER ROAD IS THE ONE THAT MAKES YOU YOU and BE HERE NOW. Gradually, my sense of gratitude grew. I became more aware of how precious every moment is.

Toward the end of Eve Ensler’s interview, she talked about the second wind, “I love the idea of the second wind,” she said. “You’re running and running and running and then you get that next wind and you can keep going.”

It’s been two years since my cancer diagnosis and I am back in my body. And my body is strong and elated to have me back in it. I’m dancing at rehearsal at Old First, where our piece, “Dearly Gathered,” will premier in January. I’ve also been running in Dolores Park, sprinting hills and stairs with abandon. And that’s something I’ve discovered about the second wind: you have to be all in in the first place. You have to hang in there. Keep working to truly inhabit your body as if for the first time; trust the money will come when the funding falls through — and then the second wind comes upon you. When you are invested, the payoff is invaluable. Basil not only made me exactly what I longed for in a handbag. He made me a friend. He would make you a friend, too, if you had a moment to spend.

Cancer clarifies that the real currency is time. Capitalism, in Eve’s words, engineers “desire in us for what can be in the future.” It’s about how you must compete for a better future for yourself. But that separates
us from each other—makes the distance between us longer-–and it separates us from this moment, with the promise that there will always be more. Do we need more? I found I have enough already. When I devote my time to appreciating what it is to be alive right now, with my family and friends and artistic community, I am content. I am free. It’s in the bag.

Tips on Writing a Letter of Intent (LOI) and Grant Application

DOS AND DON’TS
Planning is key to success. Think carefully about your outline and proposal.
Talk about your ideas with staff and colleagues. Good writing does not usually happen in a vacuum. Rely heavily on the guidance and experiences of those who design and implement the project for which you seek funds. This means starting the writing process early, as much as six to twelve weeks before the deadline. Set aside quality time in a comfortable place (not necessarily your office) in order to give yourself the time to think openly and creatively. Talking plays an important role in the thought process because it prompts us to brainstorm and respond to others’ ideas. It can raise staff awareness and buy-in.

Avoid the Common “Dont’s.”

  • Don’t claim to be all things to all people. The whole world is probably not going to change if you get this grant. Don’t promise to achieve world peace or transform the entire community.
  • Don’t talk over your reader’s head. Educate the readers of your proposal. They may be unfamiliar with your issue, art form, mission, or cause. Don’t assume that funders will ask you questions. They are people, and if they don’t understand, they may not want to appear ignorant!
  • Avoid superlatives and comparisons. Be careful about saying you are the biggest, best, most innovative, etc. Instead, substantiate the merit of your organization and project, and back up your claims with facts, figures, examples, and or stories.
  • Avoid the victim mentality. Life is tough for most nonprofit organizations and artists. Your struggles are probably not that unique. If your project addresses an oppressed community or issue, then substantiate that issue or community need. Venting about past funding rejections, however, is not helpful to your organization or the funder. Your writing must connect with and relate to the reader(s) in a way that encourages their investment and buy-in.

Remember the basics of good writing.

  • Use simple, clear English. Double-check your grammar or, if you feel weak in this area, ask someone else to edit your writing. Overly-long sentences lose the reader.
  • Use active verbs. “Mr. Smith is the person that will be the director” is greatly improved as “Mr. Smith will direct the program.”
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms, and technical terms. Try to ensure that the reader’s understanding of a word or term coincides with your use of it. If you must use these terms, then define them.

Ask someone outside of your organization to read your proposal. The reader should not tell you if the proposal is good or bad, merely what they think is said. Are any portions unclear? Was your reader able to understand your vocabulary? Did they grasp the main points?

Important: Why would the funder support your program? This rationale is based in your research, rather than your hopes. Has the funder supported similar activities? Does your project fit their priorities and/or market? Note that answering this question involves addressing their priorities, not yours!

THE CHALLENGE OF LANGUAGE AMBIGUITIES: THE THREE “MIS’S”
Feel free to use the words below in your grant proposals. But be aware of the potential for misunderstanding. Unless you are certain that decision makers will understand them, you may need to explain their context to your project, organization, and constituency.

—————————————————- —————————————————-

“Misinterpreted” Words—those with multiple meanings, such that the funder’s (or panel’s) interpretation might differ from what you intend.

collaboration
community
diversity
important
innovative
mentor
member
outreach 
outstanding
partnership
residency
unique
work
“under-”
“non-”

—————————————————- 2 —————————————————-

“Missed” Words—those that funders may not recognize, particularly as some may not be experts in art, culture or history.

abstract
artistic
director
audience
development
creative process
derivative
dramaturg
figurative
hip-hop

—————————————————- 3 —————————————————-

“Misused” Words—those that are sometimes misused by arts organizations.

the young
affect/effect
capital campaign
focus group
goals/strategies
insure/ensure
its/it’s
Latin, Latino, Latina, Latinx
which/that

Consider this quote from Aristotle, which is as relevant today as when it was written:

Style, to be good, must be clear. Clearness is secured by using words that are current and ordinary. You must disguise your art and give the impression of speaking naturally and not artificially. Strange words and invented ones must be used sparingly and on few occasions. The aptness of language is one thing that makes people believe in the truth of your story. Their minds are drawn to the false conclusion that you are to be trusted from the fact that you seem to be talking to them. — Aristotle, The Rhetoric, written nearly 2,500 years ago

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE THINKING
Just as Important: Why might the funder not support your program?

To answer that question, learn to think as your own devil’s advocate. What are the weaknesses, gaps, or inconsistencies in the project description, as stated in your application? As you expand and revise your application, try to address and eliminate your weaknesses, if possible, through planning, research, and dialogue with staff and community partners.

Here’s an example of how this process works for an applicant organization that seeks funding to present a performance series on gender identity:

Anticipated questions from the funder:
Does the applicant have partnerships with local LGBTQ organizations? Will the performance series reach and serve the LGBTQ community?

Weaknesses within the proposal:The applicant had not taken the time to plan this project collectively with its existing LGBTQ partners. In consequence, the application did not describe its partners’ role in the project or how their constituents would be reached.

Converting the weakness into a strength:
Applicant then reached out to community partners to discuss the project and describe their role and to confirm that artists were comfortable with the new activities. A revised, stronger proposal, incorporating that planning might read as follows:

Over the past several weeks, we have been in discussion with local colleges, museums, schools and social service organizations that address gender identity in their curriculum, programs and services. Professor Wilson, who is transgender and heads the Gender Studies program at ABC University, has agreed to host a series of panels for students from three colleges in our city. After our student matinee, the Buchanan High School will share its new curriculum, Out Teens, with students in attendance. The artists have agreed to meet with both college and high school students during the week they are in town.

Planning and research involved: Before submitting the proposal the applicant identified and addressed its weaknesses by contacting the LGBTQ partners to discuss their needs, secure their support, and design a mutually beneficial project.

Result: Applicant turned a weakness into a strength. Because the applicant provided evidence of its partnerships, the funder’s interest increased. Applicant incorporated first voice perspective, so that it was not planning a project for the LGBTQ community from a solely heteronormative place.

Next-to-Last Stop: Check the published review criteria. Review your application to ensure that it addresses every published criterion.

Last Stop: Check all application submission requirements. Ensure that you meet formatting restrictions to the letter, including margins, font size and word limits.

© Copyright Callahan Consulting for the Arts. All rights reserved.

Sanctuary Spaces: FRESH Festival Artists Violeta Luna and Roberto Varea Plan Empathy and Disruption Across Borders

FRESH Festival. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

FRESH Festival. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

“We were thinking about a number of other things,” says Roberto Varea when I ask him about what he and collaborator Violeta Luna have planned for their FRESH Festival outing this month. “…and then the earthquake occurred on November 8th and we started rethinking.”

Varea and Luna are seated on opposite sides of a wooden table in an old-guard Mission District café, accompanied by a loud soundtrack—Dylan live, Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry… We lean in to hear one another better, which heightens the conspiratorial mood. The presidential election is only a few weeks old and there’s a sense of dread that hangs in the air, of people bracing themselves for the coming storm.

“Going back to this empathy/disruption thematic thread for FRESH ’17,” continues Varea, referring to the too-timely prompt from the Festival’s 2017 curators (including founder Kathleen Hermesdorf, Abby Crain and José Navarrete), “…it felt like the time was ripe to try to imagine a new work dealing particularly with what’s going on, in the context of empathy for immigrants.”

The title for the new piece, sanct·u·are / (sanc·tu·ar·y), turns on the status of San Francisco as a sanctuary city for all (including undocumented) immigrants as well as the temporary zone of acceptance (safety “for the expression of the unsafe”) manifest in socially engaged performance. Varea is directing and supplying video to the concept that he and Luna are evolving. In addition to performing the piece, Luna supplies costumes and properties. Music and sounds will be furnished by David Molina, a longtime collaborator and, like Luna and Varea, an immigrant himself.

“That’s the spin on the word sanctuary,” continues Varea. “Hopefully it will be obvious enough for people to conjure the idea of the sanctity of the other— especially the most vulnerable other, in the context of immigration and the climate that Trump and Sessions and all these people are going to be putting into practice for them. Let alone the reality of an immigrant that 99 times out of 100 is not leaving to ‘make it’ in some other place but because of some catastrophic situation back home.”

Violeta Luna, leaning into the conversation, expands on the title, sometimes softly passing through a phrase in Spanish before reaching for an English equivalent in her pronounced Mexico City accent.

“I mean a place where you can have dialogues with different people who come from different backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, gender, disciplines—you can create a space of security where you can talk to different forms, to approach themes in different ways. For example, I am an immigrant, I am a woman, but also I am Mexican. All of the narratives [placed on me by] power, I can speak [to] in a safe space.”

Deeply invested in the bifurcated, in between identity of the immigrant and of all forms of otherness, Luna has long worked at the intersection of ritual, installation, performance art and theater, both in solo projects and in collaborations, including La Pocha Nostra. Her work has been presented in the Bay Area for the last two decades, but about ten years ago she established a permanent residence here. A couple of years later she began working with Argentine-born theater director and University of San Francisco professor Varea and Salvadoran-born musician-composer Molina in the collective Secos y Mojados (which also included visual artist Victor D. Cartagena).

sanct·u·are / (sanc·tu·ar·y) builds on this and related work, including Secos y Mojados’ Border TRIP(tych) (2008), a rigorous exploration of the immigrant experience at the site of the divided, besieged, remembering, anguished, desiring body itself. The task, made increasingly urgent in a time of unbridled authoritarianism and scapegoating, remains to humanize the other.

In a highly unequal system, the marginalized and criminalized immigrant is a vulnerable body that can be easily manipulated by the powerful actors at the top, who have multiple uses for it, beginning as cheap labor but extending to a political cipher that can be deployed as a convenient stereotype by demagogues, as the recent election demonstrated so appallingly well.

Art as sanctuary, then, means the space for re-appropriating, re-writing, complicating, questioning those narratives put on us by the dominant forces in society?

Violeta Luna: Yes, though it’s hard to keep those spaces. And not just here, but all over the world, people are having to work harder to [maintain an artistic practice] in terms of securing a budget, getting grants…

Roberto Varea: To me it is one of the most horrible hypocrisies of our culture, that of picking on the most vulnerable of scapegoats because they don’t speak the language [and overlooking the fact that they are] most likely leaving conditions unfavorable to them, because they are favorable to us in the U.S…. Controlling people involves also oiling the machinery of their exploitation, particularly those without papers, who they’re counting on being here anyway. There’s this overwhelming construction of the Evil Other and the Righteous Self, and then there’s the actual economy.

How do you begin to approach this terrain again, in an aesthetic sense? What does your process look like?

RV: That’s the big question for us too! We shift gears a lot as we’re thinking about a number of things. Of course, the good thing about it is that FRESH invites us to start something new. But we’re certainly going to build on a number of things.

VL: For me, it’s important to approach it at different levels. First there is all the research that we need to do and that we have already done, and also our own personal history. But also this level that is more intuitive. My work is more performance art in that sense. Objects [are] also very important. A suitcase. A pair of shoes. Clothes given us by a friend, an undocumented worker—clothes that he was wearing when he crossed the border.

RV: We’re dealing with empathy, which ultimately is about trying to do our best to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, so to speak, to try to understand someone else’s story as if it were our own. Within that [we seek to] create intimacy where there is alienation and otherness, as a path to understanding. So I’m thinking of imagery related to Muslim people, transgender as border- crosser—whatever defies the fixed and controlled spaces even as they relate to our own identities. What are the different ways that we all migrate, including our consciousness, our sense of self.

FRESH Festival. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

FRESH Festival. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

A space of possibility.

RV: Exactly.

VL: When I teach my workshops, I ask the participants, “Which borders do we want to cross today?” Yes, it’s the curiosity, but we have many borders. Cuando hay más fronteras la gente es más intolerante, no? Identity is a construction coming from the narrative of power. In terms of the economy, the borders are open. Maybe we start to open our own borders.

RV: We need to also find a way to cultivate sanctuary for the expression of different views. So that we can feel safe to talk to each other on frank terms about the things that we haven’t been able to talk about. This is worldwide. We travel a lot with our work and we have families in our countries of origin. We’re seeing this happening everywhere, the polarization, the division. It’s critical that we not only find a way to keep ourselves safe from the larger designs of people like Trump, and that kind of mentality, but also that we reach out to those we haven’t been able to talk to because we are all in our bubbles. How can we build spaces to respectfully engage with different views and not have to agree but to have civil conversation? What can emerge from that? I think it would be a step in the right direction.

The problem is often that the disagreement is already skewed by a serious imbalance of power. At the same time, our inability to speak to one another on an equal plain is a division that serves power, which, as we’ve seen recently, very intentionally exploits that division.

RV: Relationships can be oppressive too, so it’s about finding relationships of mutuality. It’s a path in that direction…. I feel there are fewer spaces that can actually get there outside of art. I believe art is the primordial space where this possibility emerges. In this context, the lack of support for the arts [in the United States] is not a coincidence. I’m from Argentina. I survived the dictatorship. And the meticulousness with which the dictatorship attacked the arts, particularly the arts that involved a live presence—it was just absolutely clear. These guys were very concerned with the performing spaces, the performing arts, and they were quite brutal with people who engaged in that kind of thing. They were, too, with a famous singer or writer that reached millions, of course. They killed them and they forced them into exile, they disappeared them. But those who worked in creating these sorts of spaces where people come together were also particularly targeted.

VL: Yes, because there’s never really a separation, no? …activist art is sometimes imagined as disconnected [from the arts in general], but art is also a political decision. It’s not just the activity of the imagination. And these public spaces—they are the means or the vehicle because it’s more inclusive. In Latin America, a lot of theater groups not only created such spaces but they were also very connected with social movements. That happened in Peru, in Colombia, Argentina, Chile—but always the artist needs to be like a chameleon.

RV: Reflecting on Argentina and what I’m seeing today in the U.S., we haven’t gotten to that [extreme] of course, but I am having some PTSD. The worst thing that happens to a society under an oppressive government is the tearing of the social fabric, particularly along the lines of trust. When we enter into that space where we couldn’t even have this conversation because I don’t know you that well, and I’m not sure what your agenda is—that is most destructive to a culture and society, more than the specific people being killed or disappeared, it’s that larger social tear.

SPEAK: Memory/Place

Memory/Place. Photo by John Hefti.

Memory/Place. Photo by John Hefti.

“Is it possible I think of my home in every thought, in every hour?
I surrender myself. I dedicate to her these teardrops continually falling.”
— From IIbn Hamdis’ ancient poem, A Lament for Sicily, translated by Patti Trimble.

I was drawn to the island of Sicily for its ancient culture and natural beauty twenty years ago, and now spend several months of the year there. I have made a small studio in my house. Sicily has become a place to nurture and sharpen my senses.

In the current refugee crisis, hundreds of thousands of people are leaving their homeland in the hope of finding better circumstances. Thousands are landing on the small island south of Sicily, Lampedusa, and thousands have died in the Mediterranean Sea, which is too often a graveyard. Photographs and daily articles in La Sicilia newspaper depict the close presence of refugees in overcrowded boats and makeshift rafts. We see new faces every year in the neighboring hill town, Piazza Armerina.

Beginning Memory/Place and Now in the Studio
The seriousness and calamitous nature of the refugees’ plight being so close to me was the impetus for Memory/Place. In Sicily during the spring of 2015, I filled notebooks with drawings, news clippings, and choreographic sketches to approach the ideas around memory and place. The accumulation of stories from daily news events and personal conversations, and probing into historical writings created more questions to include, perhaps most importantly, “where do I start?” Since the 5th Century BCE, Sicily has experienced one mass migration after another, which caused me to wonder, “should I consider ancient times, or do I begin by addressing the current crisis?”

At first I chose to begin with imagery from classical times, but this approach quickly morphed into the personal, the mass immigration that many of our own grandparents faced landing at portals of hopeful possibilities, such as Ellis Island in the late 19th century. As more research ensued, my thoughts returned again to Sicily and the current situation of the constant influx of refugees on Lampedusa. The list of ideas and approaches seemed endless, until what seemed clearest was the coalescence of simultaneous, divergent elements to convey an impression of the reality at hand. Today Memory/Place has developed into a work of intimate scenes representing contradictory elements all at once. There is stillness and movement, darkness and light, and the boundaries between these fluctuating opposites become unpredictable. It is a work that is impressionistic without narrative continuity. I have designed the piece in three interconnected parts each with its own musical score. As I write this essay at the close of 2016, the dancers and I are looking at the issues of up-rootedness and displacement; we are imagining the experience of existing on the edge of society, then transferring these themes to the edges of the body and the edges of our defined space. We are working with movement ideas as metaphor, disrupting one’s sense of place, experiencing a sense of dislocation and feelings of isolation and exclusion. I am investigating the neglected or often forgotten edges and corners of the stage and finding the dancers’ physical limits in the space.

The Music
I was born into a family of musicians. Music has always played an important role and been an equal partner in my work. This year, my company, Nancy Karp + Dancers, has commissioned musical scores from composers Kui Dong and Robert Honstein for Memory/Place. Both works, along with Lou Harrison’s Grand Duo, will be performed live. I am grateful to have musicians Gianna Abondolo (cello), Sarah Cahill (piano), and Kate Stenberg (violin) rehearsing in the studio and performing with us.

Kui Dong is writing the music for Part I of Memory/Place. I was immediately drawn to Dong’s music upon listening to her album Since When Has the Bright Moon Existed, back in 2010. The string quartet continued to captivate me as I waited for an appropriate moment to work with it in my choreography. In 2015, two movements from the quartet were featured in the dance company’s new work, time and the weather. While viewing the performance, Dong remarked how she appreciated the manner in which “the choreography gave space to the music and allowed it to breathe.” Finding common ground, the two of us began a yearlong dialogue about our first collaborative work together. The tripartite structure for Memory/Place is the outcome of these many discussions. As of this writing, Dong is in the process of finishing her composition, which will soon be in the hands of musicians Gianna Abondolo and Kate Stenberg. All the choreography is complete for this section and I just received the first eight minutes of the music. I am thrilled with the direction Dong has taken with the composition.

Memory/Place. Photo by John Hefti.

Memory/Place. Photo by John Hefti.

More Music
After several conversations with Dong, the work expanded into an evening-length piece in three parts. Stenberg introduced me to the work of composer Robert Honstein earlier this year. His music immediately resonated with me and I invited him to compose a work to follow Dong’s in the program. This week he sent several beautiful studies to be developed into a full composition. We have tried these studies in rehearsal and they brilliantly aligned with the quality of the movement.

For Part III, I chose music by composer Lou Harrison. Harrison was an early mentor of mine, and often one of a small handful of audience members at my first performances in the 1970s. In honor of his centennial in 2017, I chose his emotive Grand Duo for Violin and Piano. The choreography in this section is full of contrast, both in movement dynamics and style, similar to that of the different movements of Harrison’s Grand Duo.

The Visual Design, representing the passage of time
Painting #5 from Bay Area visual artist Thekla Hammond’s A Full Life Story series is mounted on the far wall of my studio. It is a constant inspiration as I navigate through the making of this work. I am drawn to the way Hammond works with color, texture, and movement in her large-format abstract paintings. I am collaborating with lighting designer Jack Carpenter to reveal the painting incrementally throughout the duration of the performance to create a sense of gradual change of place and passage of time. Carpenter has been participating in the project since its inception, and together we have had many discussions about creating a setting with multiple points of focus. He will build this not only with light, but also with placement of the musicians in new spatial relationships to one another, integrated with the visual environment of the piece.

In developing ideas beyond specific political events
My work is not driven by specific political events, however I am deeply affected by the cur- rent developments in the world. I am ethnically part of a people that have migrated again and again over centuries. The migration of refugees that I see in Sicily brings these times to mind. I am not making this work as a political response to our present-day crisis, rather the purpose of my art making is to transcend the political in pursuit of universal gesture and feelings as a way to express the tumultuous nature of the human experience over time.

Memory/Place is nearly ready at this writing in late-November. We journey on to opening night, testing the turbulent waters of something new.

Krissy Keefer Charges Forward on the Cusp of a Fifth Decade: A New Space for Dance Mission Theater and Dance Brigade

Dance Brigade. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Dance Brigade. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

“A collective response of intelligence and resistance together with compassion.” — Krissy Keefer, November 2016

Mission street between 15th and 16th does not get a lot of foot traffic. That stretch can be so oddly quiet that you might even find a parking spot in the middle of the day. Its regulars are local residents, amidst people living on the street finding temporary refuge at the Navigation Center (that, rumor has it, may be replaced by a stack of apartments). Hopefully, the apartments might welcome at least a small percentage of low-income residents. One of these days, several floors of apartments at what is called “market rates” may top it. Yet this sad forgotten part of the beloved Mission has at least one spot of hope.

Above the headquarters of the UFCW648—United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 648—on the West side of the Street, dozes a long-abandoned meeting room. It may have been the place where the workers’ union once developed common strategies, or paid their dues, or perhaps made a credit union deposit at the now boarded up bank-like cashiers windows. The narrow wooden folding chairs are meticulously lined up, facing a dais with a speaker’s podium and big chairs, no doubt once used by officials. The linoleum may be worn, the air just a mite bit stale; yet I can still sense the spirit of what was a vital community resource years ago.

Not Dance Mission Theater Artistic Director Krissy Keefer, who is my tour guide on this late November morning. Her mind is on the future. “It came in just in time for Thanksgiving, ” she had emailed me from Cincinnati where she spent the holiday.

The “It” is the Letter of Intent for a ninety-nine year lease, which makes a real possibility of Dance Mission Theater/ Dance Brigade leasing the floor above the UFSW648’s ground floor office. They will add two additional floors, perhaps even three, and turn the location into an 18,000 sq. ft. venue. Keefer beams at the idea that she might have more space than she needs. Looking around, she sees that “all of this will have to be torn out, except the load-bearing pillars; I don’t quite know how it will work—that will be the architect’s job.” She already has one in mind.

One thing is certain: Dance Mission Theater will finally become wheel chair accessible. An elevator is definite. Planned are several studios—the ceilings are high, the windows large—and, perhaps a 350-seat theater. What will not change is the model of Dance Mission housing all of its activities under one roof; the classes, the residences, the workshops, the public performances, the home of Dance Brigade and Grrrl Brigade. Keeping prices affordable to audiences, students, artists and dance companies remains essential.

In its current location, Dance Mission has become known for its performances (42 weeks a year), children’s program (350 students enrolled), teenage Grrrl Brigade (85 girls total), and over 550 adults stepping into classes each week — from Hip Hop to Samba, West African to Modern, House Method to Taiko Drumming. With five full-time and three part-time employees, the organization’s budget is close to one million dollars, 75% of which is earned income.

The name ‘Dance Mission’ indicates both a location and a commitment to the neighborhood, but it also affirms an organization for dance that has a mission. Keefer has proven that socially conscious dance theater and aesthetics don’t have to be in conflict. Making “good” political-change art can also be good art. This is certainly one reason why the Dance Brigade has survived, celebrating its 40th anniversary on January 13th and 14th at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Kary Schulman, director of the Grants for the Arts program of the SF Hotel Tax Fund, put it succinctly when she described Dance Brigade “as a unique arts creator— demonstrating the powerful combination of performance and social activism of which Krissy was a pioneer and still one of the most respected practitioners.”

The January celebration will offer the world premiere of Gracias a la Vida (Life in a Bitter Time) for which Keefer had to switch gears halfway through. “Like everybody, I thought Hillary Clinton was going to win,” she remarks, “and now we have a president who is a climate change denier.” But the thrust of what she calls “an artistic response to the collective crisis that the country is in,” has not been derailed. The cast includes ten women, three men and two male musicians.

Gracias, she explains, “examines human connections when the truth does not feel that good.” Love places a central role, but not the goody-goody, sentimental variety. Unlike previous endeavors with long-time collaborators, for this production Keefer chose a cast with whom she has not worked extensively. Men and women. She even auditioned some of the performers—a first for her. She is again working with long-time friend, singer Holly Near. They are reaching back to folk and protest songs from the 1960s and earlier that still resonate today. Think Woodie Guthrie’s Deportee and Neil Young’s Southern Man.

Keefer cut her theatrical/dance teeth with the Wallflower Collective in Eugene Oregon, a radical feminist group that outgrew its home base and, after an unhappy move to Boston, relocated to San Francisco because its members wanted to be in an urban (West Coast) environment. As it turned out, it was not exactly a happy decision: the move destroyed Wallflower. Keefer recalls San Francisco’s volatile political environment of the 1970’s where you were expected to decide on whether to support the Workers World Party, non-intervention in Chile, Cuba’s revolution or the Palestinians. “We were not prepared for how vicious those discussions could get,” she remembers. “We were like milkmaids from Oregon.”

Dance Brigade. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Dance Brigade. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

So, forty years ago, Keefer (together with deceased friend and colleague Nina Fichter) founded Dance Brigade. The troupe has admirably succeeded in creating Dance Theater that powerfully speaks to the heart and the mind, the individual and the collective. Keefer is an excellent writer and actor. She always weaves a sense of humor and a glimmer of hope into even the most desperate scenarios. A cursory glance at some of what has been accomplished gives an idea of the vitality and breadth of these fearless warriors:

  • The Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie (1987). Probably the most inclusive dance theater works at the time. It still thrives in a Grrrl Brigade version.
  • Sleepwalker (1990), exploring women and alcoholism.
  • Pandora’s Box (1991), a not so modest history of womankind
  • Cinderella – a tale about domestic abuse and resistance
  • Ballet of the Banshees. . . (1995) ends with a healing ritual for women and breast cancer.
  • Queen of Sheba (1999), Keefer’s solo on the power of the female body and its prophetic voice
  • Dry/Ice (2005), a work about global warming with a bathtub and plastic bottles.
  • Iphigenia at Aulis (2006), Dance Brigade as a Greek Chorus in Euripides’ play
  • The Great Liberation Upon Hearing (2009), accompanied Lena Gatchalian through the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The only place on stage you’ll ever encounter a real pig’s head.
  • Hemorrhage: An Ablution of Hope and Despair (2014), looking at displacement caused by rapacious real estate developers.

Starting a fifth decade in shaping Bay Area dance, Keefer could reasonably think about retirement. She has considered it, but it is not in the cards. For one thing, she has been buoyed by the many non-profits and governmental agencies that have been so positive about Dance Mission taking on a 99-year lease. This includes a looming capital campaign ($6,000,000) for which they’ll have to hire a Capital Development Manager (a Dance Mission first). Among others, Keefer credits MEDA (Mission Economic Development Agency) for assistance in the complex lease negotiations. Lex Leifheit Nonprofit Business Development Manager of the Office of Economic & Workforce Development explains the City’s support: “Dance Mission’s core values of inclusiveness, fairness and justice reflect San Francisco’s values and the spirit of advocacy embodied by many nonprofits here.” Schulman elaborates her evaluation for “a group that has an enviable record of earned income and sound management. DB/DM is an irreplaceable community asset!”

Keefer estimates that the remodeling will take about three years. In the meantime, she has plans for Dance Brigade. “I may want to change directions,” she laughs, volunteering that she has been reading a lot about Diaghilev. Apparently, it has helped her rediscover her love for ballet. She is working with a group of beautifully trained Cuban dancers in their twenties, who would like to have more opportunities creating and performing.

Both a passionate idealist and a realist, Keefer believes that “the rise of Misty Copeland has changed the aesthetics of ballet. It has moved away from the emaciated 19-year old, 110-pound dancer.” Ballet in the future, she projects, “can have breasts and hips, and women can show muscles. For too long it has been androgynous with [female dancers] muted in their energy field. So it’s exciting for me to participate in what has been shut to me all these years. Misty has saved ballet because it is going to be more interesting. It will no longer be based on a singular aesthetic.”

The artist-led model of dance companies, she also believes, is no longer sustainable. So she is looking back to Diaghilev where ballerinas not only looked like her, but where ballet, in addition to visual and musical collaborators, engaged a variety of choreographers. She already has in mind several local artists whom she would like to commission. “I am going to be the next Diaghilev,” Keefer gleefully asserts. She just might be right.

Gaining Perspectives, Changing Perceptions: ARTICLE #1: How Politics and Power Shaped Dance in Pakistan

Photo by Margo Moritz

In a time where hatred and violence are a common occurrence abroad and in the U.S., I believe that artists play a critical role as cultural ambassadors and social change-makers. Through the art created and shared, and the interactions developed with audiences and students near and far, we can help shift perspectives and perceptions of the world today—in a way that both challenges and enlightens us alongside our audiences.

In January of 2016, I embarked on my first solo dance tour to Pakistan, and since then I have spent almost three months there in less than one year. I have been overwhelmed by the positive, warm responses I’ve received through performing and teaching. I continue to receive invitations to return since my first visit, and I feel honored and humbled to be part of the artistic landscape of Pakistan.

Over the course of a three part series, I will share my experiences and observations. With each visit, I’ve been able to deepen relationships, increase awareness of Kathak (classical dance of South Asia) as an art form, and not only represent myself as a Pakistani Muslim American woman performing and teaching dance, but also influence multiple generations to rethink their perspective on dance and dancers. And yet, along with the wonderful outcomes, I’ve also come to better understand the history of dance in Pakistan and how politics and extremism has and continues to determine dance in daily Pakistani culture.

Throughout my time in Pakistan, I’ve used social media to share the work that I’m doing. It’s been wonderful to see the response from friends and family in the U.S. as well as in Pakistan. It’s been a reminder of how technology has brought our world much closer together; when used authentically, in my first-hand observations, social media dispels stereotypes and changes perceptions about the people of Pakistan.

Through sharing my experiences I hope to invoke a sense of desire and responsibility that we, as artists and citizens of the world, have in reclaiming our place as a unified human race working together to better our world in the present and our future.

Why Pakistan? Why now?
I have performed and taught Kathak throughout the U.S. and India, first as a member of the Chitresh Das Dance Company, and now as a solo artist. My parents were born in India and moved to newly created Pakistan just after Partition when they were two years old, living there until they married and moved to the U.S. in 1971. Our family went frequently when I was a child so I became familiar with the culture, the food, and now the language—but I was nonetheless unsure how I would be received as a dancer in Pakistan. Even with these unknowns, a voice inside me kept saying, “Now’s the time. Just go. You’ll never know how you/it will be received unless and until you go to Pakistan.

And so, my first trip, not knowing if there would be other visits, was planned. As I began to reach out to my personal contacts, they began to connect with people presenting performances, with whom they shared my information. I was pleasantly surprised to receive multiple invitations to perform and teach, resulting in six performances. In this first trip, I taught Kathak for multiple schools and organizations in the three major cities – Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Photo courtesy of Farah Yasmeen Shaikh

Pakistan – a brief history
In addition to sharing my own experiences, I would also like to provide a brief outline of recent political underpinnings that have shaped Pakistan. This context is important in creating a non-judgmental approach to Pakistanis and furthermore understanding attitudes towards dance.

When India gained its independence from the British in 1947, the country was divided into India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (later to become Bangladesh)—based on religious borders and boundaries to create an Islamic nation of Pakistan. This forced migration resulted in the world’s largest mass refugee crisis where up to 25 million people were uprooted and nearly 2 million died in the violence that accompanied Partition.

As Pakistan developed its infrastructure in its first two decades as a nation, music and dance were a beloved presence in the social and cultural fabric. In 1966, the PIA Arts Academy was established in Karachi under the Pakistan International Airlines corporation, and with a heavy emphasis on dance programming. Dance classes were conducted along with performances for people living in and visiting Pakistan, especially at the various embassies located in Karachi.

Upon a military coup in 1977, General Zia-ul-Haq became the President of Pakistan, ruling from 1978-1988, institutionalizing military and Sharia Law, religious law derived from religious prophecy. This had a profound impact on the arts, and dance in particular. According to celebrated Pakistani artist of dance and theater, Sheema Kermani,

“It was a very difficult time for all of us to live through. As far as performing arts was concerned, all dance was banned. And the women who were in the arts bore the harshest brunt of it all. They were the most targeted. So when all this started happening, everyone began leaving the country. There was a mass exodus of talent from here.” (Interview with Samaa TV, August 30, 2016)

This was undoubtedly the most oppressive era in Pakistan’s history, and in many ways, though almost 30 years have passed since Zia-ul-Haq’s death in 1988, the nation and its people still suffer from the institutionalized conservatism once forced upon them.

Who’s dancing now?
During the decade of Sharia Law, Pakistanis were fearful of having any connection to dance—due to claims of dance being “un-Islamic” and the belief that women should not publicly display their bodies. Many artists had either left the country, or stopped teaching and performing. Children were born, and in their most formative years, had no idea that dance was part of their culture. They never missed it because they never had it.

A whole generation went untrained and uninformed about dance and music. Many adopted a conservative religious mindset including the notion that dance had no place in Islam and thus in the fabric of Pakistani culture.

It took time for artists to feel secure promoting their art form publicly, and to regain the trust, confidence in themselves and from others, and an interest in dance by others as well. Sheema Kermani is one artist who continues to negotiate creating work in Pakistan. She had remained steadfast in developing her craft as an Odissi and Bharatanatyam (other forms of classical dance) dancer during the decade of conservatism in 77-88, and also developed a theater arts organization, Tehrik-e-Niswan (meaning ‘feminist movement’) in Karachi. SheemaJi (respectfully) has been working for the past 35 years for the promotion of quality theatre in Urdu (language of Pakistan) and for women’s development through theatre and media in Pakistan.

“I just felt that if I also leave [Pakistan] then dance will die. And I took it on myself to continue it and not let it die. However it may be considered subversive, I was determined to continue doing it,” said SheemaJi when asked about the decade during Zia-ul-Huq’s rule.

Pakistan in the present
Pakistan’s history and current instability (from targeted and random acts of violence in the overall region), continues the uphill battle for dance artists to gain respect and complete acceptance as performers and teachers. Even 10-15 years ago, commonly occurring violent acts such as carjacking threatened safety on a daily basis; family and friends had all more recently assured me that the overall tension had subsided—it was a relatively safe time to come to perform and teach.

Thanks to artists like Sheema Kermani, and leadership shifting to more moderate approaches, the environment in relation to dance is not as oppressive as it once was but I still didn’t know what to expect. The idea of dancing in Pakistan felt personal, political and emotional. I felt the pressure of representing Kathak, the U.S., my GuruJi’s training—that somehow I was even bridging the divide between India and Pakistan, and that perhaps I could encourage an openness to dance and Kathak specifically.

Photo courtesy of Farah Yasmeen Shaikh

At first I had a number of questions and doubts. Was it safe for a woman to dance in public? What labels were being placed on me for being a daughter of former Pakistani citizens, now returning as a professional dancer? Would I be ridiculed for my American accent? What aspects of Kathak should I perform, fearing I would do something “too Hindu” provoking anti-Indian sentiments? What were the musicians going to be like— would they give me respect as a female, as a dancer? How would I connect with these musicians—based on cultural, language and possibly gender based judgements?

All of these questions and concerns have been met with resounding positive outcomes. From the first time I rehearsed with an ensemble of Pakistani musicians, to teaching groups of men and women—most of whom had never taken a dance class, to performing for audiences of multiple generations, people have been excited, appreciative, extremely respectful and encouraging. I’ve been invited to teach workshops to students of Sheema Kermani, and to perform and teach at some of the most prestigious festivals and universities throughout the country.

I will continue to share specific experiences in the remainder of this three part series. One main outcome has been my increasing desire to continue performing and teaching in Pakistan. Another is the enthusiasm from audience members and students alike. There have been some extreme high points and some moments of frustration; I have gained the most by recognizing the potential for dance to flourish as an art form and vehicle for positive, peaceful change in Pakistan. After my first performance in Karachi, one audience member posted on Facebook,

“It was pleasure meeting with Ma’am Farah Yasmeen Shaikh who is great Kathak Dancer, she graced the event with her performance at T2F, Karachi. We need women like her to dispel darkness over Muslim population based in US and across world, indeed Art is an instrument for social change; we must inject liberal spell in the heads of those who are gobbling up this innocent earth.”
I am humbled by his comments, and more-so by his faith in me to continue “dispelling darkness”. I certainly intend to keep trying, and hope you will join me.

TADA! Educators Change the Future of California Dance

Maria, a high school senior in Fremont, California has a dilemma. She needs to choose between three exemplary undergraduate college dance teacher education programs—New York University, California State University East Bay, and the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Her choice is difficult—NYU will offer her substantial tuition assistance, but she wants to attend a school nearby to be close to her family. Maria danced weekly throughout her PK-5th grade elementary school years. In middle school she danced daily and these dance classes fulfilled the physical education requirement. Her high school offers a complete dance education program, which includes pedagogy, production elements, history, cultural forms, performance aesthetics, and choreography. Now, in her senior year, she will present an evening-length work with live music, in collaboration with the school’s music department. Last semester, as part of her school’s service learning program, she assisted 3rd-5th grade dance classes at the elementary school she attended. Maria received a rigorous dance education as a California public school student, enabling her to successfully audition into a university dance program. She hopes to pursue a career as a dance teacher, returning to her high school to teach the youth in the community she grew up in.

Our protagonist in this story is attending school in the year 2056, 40 years(1) after SB916 Theatre and Dance Act (TADA) was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 26, 2016.

The recent signing of TADA erases 46 years of a legislative error which shifted the ground of dance teacher education in our state. Prior to the Ryan Act of 1970, a college student interested in teaching dance, theater, music or visual arts in the public school system could receive a teaching credential in one of the four arts disciplines. After the Ryan Act, only teaching credentials in music and visual arts were offered by the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing. In 1970, all four arts teaching credentials were up for renewal, but due to the Ryan Act only the music and visual art teaching credentials were renewed. The reason for this was a clerical error due to a missing “s”. The drafted legislation described “music and art,” instead of “music and arts”.

As a result of this error, a dancer interested in pursuing a teaching credential needed to earn a PE credential through coursework and passing the CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers) in physical education, or earning a credential in another subject and then one also needed to receive a dance subject matter authorization or a special waiver from a school district. The PE CSET evaluates knowledge on how to teach dryland aquatics, rugby, basketball, soccer, flag football, and the list goes on, and hardly includes dance. However, if you received a dance teaching credential in one of the other 13 states in our union that offered a credential program you could teach in California and be grandfathered in with a PE credential. If this sounds convoluted, that’s because it truly was that complicated.

Of course, many dancers who wanted to stay in California lost interest in pursuing
a PE credential, because frankly it is much more rewarding for dancers to be moving, choreographing, or teaching, instead of studying for a PE test. Hence, following the Ryan Act, dancers gradually lost the interest to pursue a teaching credential, and students in our state’s public school system had fewer and fewer opportunities to study dance. At one point several state universities offered PE credentials with an emphasis on dance, but these programs eventually diminished.

Over the past five decades, due to the non-renewal of the dance teaching credential and its aftermath, dance has become almost non-existent in our public school system with only 2% of students in California public schools enrolled in a dance course taught by a credentialed dance teacher according to the recently released Arts Education Data Project. Compared to other arts disciplines, dance education is at the bottom of the proverbial art barrel—theater at 4%; arts, media and entertainment at 5%; music at 14%; and visual arts at 15%. It is truly amazing to envision that by 2056 the ecosystem of dance education delivery in our state will have shifted dramatically due to a lineage of dance educators who have dedicated a portion of their life’s work as artists to advancing opportunities for students like Maria.

Legacy of the Dance Teaching Credential in California
As dancers, choreographers and teachers we describe our dance training in terms of legacy and lineage. Taking myself as an example, I learned the modern dance techniques of Cunningham, Graham, and Hawkins, with a little bit of Butoh. I would say that as a choreographer, I was influenced most by Butoh, Hawkins, a bit of Pina Bausch, and June Watanabe, one of my professors at Mills College. As a children’s creative dance and choreography teacher I would trace my lineage to H’Doubler via Mary Joyce. As I try new teaching ideas and learn more about Laban Movement Analysis, Bartenieff Fundamentals, and the Language of Dance, I trace this body of work to Peggy Hackney, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Ann Hutchinson Guest, and their predecessors, Irmgard, and before her, Rudolf Laban.

As I think about TADA, in particular the “Dance Act” part, I see lineage in the advocacy work that has made significant change for California dance. Who are the artists responsible for the 46-year effort of the dance teaching credential? Generations of advocates put much effort into dance and theater credential legislation with four different legislative bills. These bills were waylaid in committee or vetoed due to lack of support from the California Teachers Association and the governor at the time. The last bill was vetoed in 1999. Over decades these advocates practiced intergenerational leadership—the leaders in the beginning, inspiring and working with the generation after them. Naming this lineage from the beginning, they are California Dance Education Association (CDEA) leaders Pat Finot, Joan Schlaich, Angela Hudson, Jacqui Lahr, Jo Ness, Judy Alter, Antoinette Marich, Judy Scalin, Susan Cambigue Tracey, Susie Whipp, Leah Bass-Bayliss, Cecelia Beam, Diana Cummins, Paige Santos, Susan McGreevy Nichols, Shana Habel, Beth McGill. During the last and final push in these past few years, these dance leaders are current CDEA co-presidents, Jessy Kronenberg and Kristin Kusanovich, along with Ginger Fox, LAUSD dance teacher and State Council Representative for California Teachers Association.

In this final effort, CDEA leaders maintained and strengthened the relationship with the California Alliance for Arts Education; built and cultivated new relationships with the California Teachers Association (one of the largest labor unions in California) and the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; and partnered with theater leaders Gai Jones and Carol Hovey of the California Educational Theatre Association. The passage of SB916, sponsored by Senator Ben Allen, was truly a performance with multiple collaborators that will forever change the face of dance education in California.

It is thanks to this lineage of impassioned and dedicated dance education advocates, who were, and are choreographers; performers; and teachers in dance studios, school districts and colleges, that the 2% of students currently receiving dance in California schools will significantly increase. Thanks to their tremendous efforts, a future generation of dancers, like the imagined Maria, can grow up in our state’s public school system experiencing dance as art; and dream of a career as a dance teacher, choreographer, or company dancer that will be grounded in reality.


(1) The forty future years estimate the time it may take for systemic change in public school education, allowing TADA’s full vision and impact to be seen in the lives of our next generation of dance educators.

Welcome

Movement and moving were one of the few constants I had growing up. Throughout childhood I found myself—literally and figuratively—at a new residence and school almost every year. This continuous movement led me to myself.

My sole parent was married and pregnant while still in high school, and then divorced with two kids at the age of 21. Mom was a youngster herself, growing up alongside my sister and me. This odd parallel parenting/growing track shaped her non-parenting style of parenting, as she tried to survive the emotional and financial perils of parenthood. When Mom was offered a new job, it was often in a different part of town or new city. So we moved.

For many children growing up in less than ideal circumstances, adaptation becomes a way of life. In my case, these relocations prompted me to create various escapist techniques. Like pretending I was from another country, even though I had never traveled outside of California. This young kid played at being a “foreigner”, dressed in a suit, and spoke a kind of gibberish to prove his specialness. Clearly I sounded silly, fooling nobody.

Reflecting on this time and the educational settings of the 1960’s and 70’s, I realize that had I been introduced to dance or other creative learning opportunities earlier, I might have understood that a fantasy life wasn’t about excluding myself from others. I was trying to be seen, to feel real, to learn, and the only way I knew how to do that was by making things up. My childhood fantasies always involved transforming into the other —a super-hero, a princess, and, of course, the foreigner speaking non-existent languages. Growing up with little structure and few interests at school, I retreated inside a body that longed to connect.

Moving was also a way to start over, with a new audience waiting. Moving is an apt metaphor for dancers and one that many have explored. Fortunately, notions of both parenting and teaching kids with overactive imaginations have evolved to encompass a variety of methods that support and encourage children who move and think differently, through outlets like dance, fantasy play, or other forms of physical expression.

It’s been proven that individuals must learn to move and, at the same time, move to learn. Doesn’t that sound like rehearsal? A life filled with practice speaks to applying the basics over and over again, a concept that finds root, then growth, in every creative endeavor.

For 46 years, if you wanted to teach dance in a California K-12 school, you needed a physical education credential. And to teach theatre, an English credential. Shamefully, California was one of only two states that did not issue a single-subject teaching credential in dance or theatre.

Luna Dance Institute Director of Community Engagement Nancy Ng writes about the years of dedicated hard work that it took to change those outdated requirements. The Theatre and Dance Act (TADA!), SB 916, that passed this year, addresses the gap in arts education by establishing a single-subject teaching credential for dance and theatre.

I can hear a collective sigh of relief. A special thanks goes out to the many gifted teachers that provide quality and caring instruction to young minds. These educators and their ideals bode well as we move toward a future where everyone will learn to dance and dance is seen as equal to any other basic subject offered in school. Creative potential abounds in every mind and body.

Resilience, steadfastness of spirit, embodied wisdom while moving forward—these are grand wishes for a celebratory time. Enjoy the moves that move you.
—Wayne Hazzard

What If Joe Landini Got Hit By A Bus?

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Watching Joe Landini run and jump up on stage to yell “Welcome to The Garage!” is a San Francisco dance community staple. The recent and final close of The Garage on Bryant combined with the shift of SAFEhouse Arts to 1 Grove has brought on a lot of change for Landini and the organization.

I sat with Joe to learn more about his experience running performance spaces, the changes SAFEhouse is facing, necessary next steps and how they will affect the community, and plans for the future.


Courtney King: Could you share the history and trajectory of SAFEhouse?

Joe Landini: For 12 years I worked for Footloose Presents and I decided at the end of those 12 years that I wanted to be my own boss. I walked the streets of SOMA looking for an empty space and I found the first Garage. [There] was a handwritten [rent sign] on this garage and this old Russian woman answered. Five minutes later this older Latino guy, who didn’t speak any english, showed up on his bicycle and handed me a key [to look at the space] and left. [The woman] said “make sure you lock the door!” So I called her back and I said “I’ll take it” and she goes, “great, keep the key.”

I started a nonprofit called SAFEhouse Arts.

CK: What have you learned from running performance spaces?

JL: I discovered that the relationships you build… [and] how you maneuver the world is based on the quality of your relationships. When I worked for Footloose I developed really good relationships with the funders— which was important.

I had relationships with a lot of artists that wanted to work with me too. We were all young choreographers. We all had one thing in common, none of us had money. None of us could afford to rent space or produce shows. My idea was if we could all band together and pay the rent it would be much more affordable.

CK: How did you develop RAW (Resident Artist Workshop)?

JL: I had worked for another nonprofit, called Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts [1978-2006], which was a queer space. There was clearly a need for a residency program when they went out of business.

CK: Can you tell me about the recent decision to transition RAW into a co-op residency?

JL: When we moved into 1 Grove, The Rainin Foundation said that they would
be interested in supporting us with a grant. That was the incentive for change. In the first meeting with the board, I asked, “If I got hit by a bus tonight what would you guys do?” I was like, what if [RAW] was a co-op? Where everyone learned how to run the space and there was a group of people that were responsible for running the space? If they didn’t run the space then it just wouldn’t be there. So if they really wanted it to be there then they would have to learn how to run it.

CK: Who helped develop the co-op structure?

JL: The Operation Manager, Hannah Rose and Artist Coordinator, Hannah Wasielewski. Hannah Wasielewski designed the co-op and proposed dividing the job into two parts [that would include] managing the building, managing the artists, and designing the co- op.

CK: How has the residency program shifted as a result?

JL: Having done the residency program for ten years, one of the things we discovered was we weren’t teaching skills to the artists. Other people would call me up saying “I got one of your artists here, why on earth don’t they know how to write a press release,” or “your artist thinks that we’re running their lights?” I like doing all those things, but I wasn’t really serving anyone by doing them.

We broke the residency into four parts: marketing, operations, development and production. Every lead artist volunteers five hours a month where they lead one of those four components. It changes about twice a year. The people who stay for 12 weeks can participate in any of those four. There are around 10 Lead Artists and 10 moving through the program, 20 all together.

CK: How has your role at SAFEhouse changed since RAW became co-run by the artists in residence?

JL: I don’t run and jump onto the stage anymore, I miss that! I had to step back and say okay, things are not going to look the way I want them to look. [Artists] need to be able to invest in the organization [as a part of their residency]. Part of investing in the organization is them deciding what the postcard should look like or the lighting plot should look like. It’s been a real exercise for me.

CK: Do you feel it is affecting the brand of SAFEhouse?

JL: It’s totally affecting the branding of SAFEhouse! It’s turning it into something different but it’s important. It needs to be reflective of the environment. Organizations have to be nimble, they need to have the ability to change based on what the needs are.

CK: Can you talk more about the move to 1 Grove.

JL: We moved to Central Market because our contact in the Mayor’s office was encouraging us to move. Gavin Newsom [SF Mayor 2004-2011] really wanted an arts district down here. We were introduced to Newsom in 2008 and the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce development (MOEWD). MOEWD gave us funding to upgrade 1 Grove in 2015. That was the reason we left Bryant Street. We have Grove Street for two more years.

CK: And for the future? What is the organization weighing?

JL: I knew a building in the Tenderloin that I really wanted, an old porn theater. I went to the city and I said, “that old porn theater, I want first dibs on that,” they
said, “as a matter of fact it’s going to be available this year, 2016, do you want to put a bid in for it?” I said, “yeah, absolutely.” Simultaneously, we have been negotiating with Fort Mason. Fort Mason has an empty building, an old army chapel available. Now we’re just in the process of trying to decide. For the Tenderloin [theater], we have to make a decision within a couple of weeks because we have been negotiating for a year. We are doing surveys; there’s lots of language explaining the pros and cons. Both are 15-20 year leases.

CK: How will these changes affect how the dance community and general community interact with SAFEhouse?

JL: I predict that we will lose 50% of our artists and 50% of our audience. We would become a very small organization. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, we don’t have to be a big organization. We’ve always been a very under the radar organization because I don’t like the pressure of being successful. It gives me the ability to fail without a bunch of people watching. I think there’s a lot of people who don’t know what’s going on [presently with SAFEhouse].

CK: What do you feel will always be at the core of SAFEhouse?

JL: The beauty of our organization is that we are so inclusive. We take 99% of the people who walk through the door. We have an empty room and you can come use our empty room. There is always an empty room for you.


Landini and SAFEhouse are pillars in the San Francisco dance community, each sup- porting the local artist in their endeavor to create. The organization’s inclusivity is nurturing and the evolving structure helps to keep the dance scene alive. However you know him, whether it’s up close or from afar, there’s no one like Joe Landini.
safehousearts.org

44 Gough St, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 920-9181 phone
(415) 920-9173 fax