By Lauren Warnecke
I’m totally in love with San Francisco…and other thoughts from a Chicagoan at Dance/USA: With thirty years under its belt, Dance/USA has an influential take on central issues in the dance community, or at least the ones that I find most interesting. I started eavesdropping on Dance/USA last year when the annual conference came to Chicago, where initiatives on dancer health, technology, and audience engagement stood out as conversations I wanted to be involved in.
I was born in San Mateo. I moved when I was four, but I make no qualms about telling anyone who will listen that I’m from California. I mean, it sounds so much cooler than saying I’m from a small town 50 miles northwest of Chicago, doesn’t it?
So naturally I jumped at the chance to return to my homeland for Dance/USA’s 2012 conference. Though sans official theme, diversity was in the air throughout the four day convening. So, I guess I wasn’t especially surprised by the plethora of SF dance companies showing off ethnic and folk dances. Compared to the angsty, crunchy granola vibe of Chicago’s modern dance scene it was refreshing to watch dancers who smile. Never before (and likely never again) have I seen West African dance, Hula, Chinese dragons, and two types of Indian dance in the same show. Intermingled with some jazz and ballet, every dance took me to a new part of the world… or maybe just to San Francisco.
I love traveling alone and walking through new cities, pretending I know where I’m going. I often call these “self-guided walking tours,” but really it’s aimless wandering with the hope of coming across a nice coffee shop and a few happy accidents. At first I found the city surprisingly difficult to navigate, but once I got my bearings I fell in love tout de suite. Aside from the great weather, laid back lifestyle, and beautiful flora, no other American city I’ve visited has so beautifully demonstrated “the melting pot” (or I think they call it a “salad bowl” now). Because the city is small in comparison to other metropolitan powerhouses, people seem to be forced to live together, share neighborhoods, and get along. I saw Asian people and Indian people in Starbucks-es downtown, and Hipsters in The Tenderloin. Homeless people and Starving Artists live symbiotically in The Mission and young singles with millionaires in Pac Heights. Here are a few more tidbits I discovered during my time in SF:
Top 10 reasons why San Francisco is awesome:
1. People compost and it’s considered normal.
2. BART has wide aisles and is clean enough to sit down in white pants.
3. Indoor temperatures outside. My hometown was 104-F in the shade while I was sporting a fashion scarf and three-quarter length shirt.
4. Perhaps because of #3, the friendliest homeless people I’ve ever encountered
5. Farmers Markets and fruit stands
6. Red wine tastes good.
7. Freeways and toll bridges
8. Spanish colonial meets Victorian architecture
9. People get places on time, but aren’t in a hurry.
10. Fresh avocado all of the time
Maybe my impression of San Francisco is a bit rose colored—not unlike Tina Fey on her first visit to Cleveland—but I can easily see myself living here with a job offer and enough disposable income to afford the crazy high rent and occasionally eat…. Anyone looking for a sassy dance writer?
But seriously, the time that wasn’t spent eating avocado and tossing my hat Mary Tyler Moore style (because “I’m gonna make it after all”) was engaged in serious conversation with some of the most thoughtful dancers, company directors, choreographers and writers I’ve met. The conference itself didn’t lend many opportunities for discussion, and the real benefit for me came out of the lunch breaks, the networking time after breakout sessions, the happy hours, and the late night reflections in my Aunt’s bathtub in San Mateo. The problems we must tackle can’t be solved in four days of hob-knobbing, but I don’t think that Dance/USA was for naught. Throughout the conference, I literally tweeted and blogged and conversed my way into a very interesting and important game. People I’ve “known” for years but never actually met gathered in this great city and we leave re-energized to take the issues our community faces head-on. The face-to-face discussions that began in San Francisco are continuing in virtual platforms across the country.
This goes back to my point about San Francisco being a really great example of the salad bowl, and why it was so important that this particular conference take place there. I mentioned that an underlying theme at Dance/USA was diversity. Keynote speakers and solicited guests were brought in to talk about the lack of resources and exposure available to dance companies who are not predominantly white, upper/middle class citizens. Rather than theme the conference “Dance/USA: The Diversity Problem,” the administration chose to go theme-less and merely imply diversity through showing lots and lots of cultural dances. But diversity, as we know, is not a dance-centric issue, and the dance community is a cross-section of the larger societies to which we belong. This begs the question: is there a “diversity problem” in San Francisco? If people live so harmoniously together, as was demonstrated to me during my time there, does the same hold true within its dance community? If so, then we as a larger dance community could learn a lot from you.
Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance writer based in Chicago, IL. She regularly contributes to danceadvantage.net and 4dancers.org, in addition to her own writing pursuits at artintercepts.org and craftylauren.com. Lauren has been producing, choreographing, and teaching ballet, modern dance, and musical theater since 2003. She holds degrees in Dance (BA, ’03) and Kinesiology (MS, ’09) and is currently a Visiting Instructor for the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a certified ballet teacher through the Cecchetti Counsel of America’s Midwest Counsel and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Photo: Lauren Warnecke, courtesy of writer