Leading the Dance Field Through Change

By Amy Fitterer


During my first few months as the executive director of Dance/USA, I engaged dance leaders from around the country in conversations about the state of the field. What are they experiencing as dance artists and managers? What issues are on the forefront of their daily work? How could Dance/USA help? From dance presenters in Minnesota, ballet managers in Washington, tap dancers in Illinois, contemporary dance artists in California and culturally-specific dancers in New York, it is clear that the dance world is very alive in the United States and, like everything else, it is facing tremendous change.

In particular, one conversation with a dance manager stands out. Hearing from many leaders in the field that everything is in flux, I threw out the question, “What signs do you see that prove the dance field is going through massive change?” The dance manager easily rattled off several key markers:

1) Funding is no longer coming in the same amounts from the same sources
2) Communication practices keep evolving as new technologies are created
3) People pass leisure time in new ways and are participating in the arts differently as a result
4) Categories and boundaries within the arts are overlapping–hard to put dance genres in boxes

I then asked if she saw us reaching a time when the change would subside, when we might reach a plateau of sorts. She responded, “No. I think change is now the norm.”

As I step into my new role, I am interested in addressing key issues that will bring relevant, tangible service to our membership while also advancing, in the broadest of terms, the field of professional dance. The idea that intense and constant change is the norm puts Dance/USA in a unique position. How can we help organizations think holistically in order to better navigate a world of blending boundaries? For example, dance organizations are looking to diversify revenue sources and identify sustainable financial models, but they also need to be aware of how economic systems are evolving and why. Dance organizations may require more effective marketing practices, but they also could benefit from an understanding of broad developments in technology and how those changes impact the access to and sharing of information. Dance/USA is in a position to monitor the big-picture while offering concrete services to support dance artists and managers through change.

In my previous position as the Director of Government Affairs for Dance/USA and OPERA America, I found myself tracking policy issues at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that dealt with wireless audio equipment used in performance and internet regulations. Arts policy issues impacting the dance field are no longer limited to funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Education and charitable giving. As technology becomes imbedded in all aspects of our lives, cultural policy has had to evolve to include technology issues as well.

For instance, when television went digital, more space became available in the broadcasting spectrum, exactly where wireless microphones (and the headsets used backstage during dance performances) operate. Dance/USA and our coalition partners in the Performing Arts Alliance began meeting with staff at the FCC, filing public comments and holding meetings with tech-savvy public interest groups and internet companies to ensure that wireless audio equipment (and their vital communications during performances) would go uninterrupted while the broadcasting spectrum was being re-allocated. Further, as the dance field has come to embrace the internet for business and the dissemination of artistic work, Dance/USA has needed to track federal regulations around the internet, such as the principle of Net Neutrality, to ensure the nonprofit dance field could continue to create and share high quality online content without penalty.

I found the changes in cultural policy work refreshing. Issues, whether in legislation or dance management, no longer exist in a vacuum. I agree that change is now the norm. Everything is overlapping and converging and I see this as a great opportunity. As a field, we can stop identifying ourselves as a niche or marginalized industry. The dance field intersects and overlaps with, for example, education, community service, health and wellness and economic development. We can boldly reach out to establish new partnerships and embrace this ongoing time of evolution.

The artists and managers in the dance field have continually inspired me. Without a doubt, our art form is one of the most creative and resilient. It is my vision that Dance/USA will continue to seek an understanding of the ever-moving big picture while offering practical tools and services to help dance organizations ride the constant waves of change.

About Dance/USA
Established in 1982 as the national service organization for the professional dance field, Dance/USA is a membership organization currently serving over 400 ballet, modern, ethnic, jazz, and tap companies, dance service and presenting organizations, individuals, and related organizations. Dance/USA believes that dance is essential to a healthy society, demonstrating the infinite possibilities for human expression and potential, and facilitating communication within and across cultures. Dance/USA sustains and advances professional dance by addressing the needs, concerns, and interests of artists, administrators, and organizations. By providing national leadership and services, Dance/USA enhances the infrastructure for dance creation and distribution, education, and dissemination of information.

Dance/USA represents the interests of the national dance community before Congress, the White House and federal agencies. As a founding member of the Performing Arts Alliance (PAA), Dance/USA works with the broader arts field to advocate for the development of national policies that recognize and strengthen the art field’s ability to contribute to American life.

Dance/USA’s e-Journal, From the Green Room, covers the business of dance for dancers, choreographers, administrators, dance organizations and foundations with news, commentary and discussion of issues relevant to the field. Check it out at danceusa.org/ejournal.

This article appeared in the May 2011 issue of In Dance.

Amy Fitterer became the executive director of Dance/USA in January 2011, after serving as the Director of Government Affairs for both Dance/USA and OPERA America. Ms. Fitterer resides in Washington, DC.