Evolving a Dance Village

By Patricia Reedy

September 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

In the summer of 2012, Luna Dance Institute moved to what we hope will be our “forever” home in West Berkeley. This 4,000-square-foot space is everything we could possibly want in a community-based dance center for children, their families, and their teachers. It is on the water; it has great lighting, a large sprung dance floor, and separate spaces for the library, warming up, and storage; and our office technology works!

Moving here has motivated me to really think about what it means to provide community space for experiential dance learning. We ended our tenure in Luna’s Emeryville studio—an intimate 700-square-foot space at 65th and Hollis—with two events that drew the largest and most diverse attendances in Luna history. Our 20/20 Points of View, held on April 25, introduced the greater San Francisco Bay Area choreographic community to a village of elementary students, their teachers, and their families, as well as to the random passersby who attend Bay Area Dance Week events. I was struck by the power of this event—by the generosity and openness of the choreographers and the receptivity of the audiences. The event lasted all day—from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.—with professionals starting and ending their 30-minute sessions seamlessly on time. They were invited to use their 30 minutes however they wanted to show their process or their work.

Those of us who stayed all day saw a perfect sampling of the magnificent diversity found in Bay Area dance making. Megan Nicely, Sonya Delwaide, Yuki Fujimoto, and Byb Chanel Bibene chose to show skillfully performed works-in-progress. Anne Bluethenthal knocked our socks off with a performance by her company—a chance to practice before their upcoming tour. Dana Lawton, Alyce Finwall, and Deborah Karp gave the student audience a chance to see dancers in rehearsal, questioning the finer details of a work. Sheldon Smith and Deborah Slater brought technology into the mix, opening up new inquiries. Marlita Hill and Thick Rich Ones revealed their vulnerability as they openly delved into issues of  identity as people and artists. Alisa Rasera created a “read-along” structured improvisation that called for audience participation, and Bianca Brzezinski led an improvisation for herself and any willing audience members. Improvisation was also at the heart of work by the Stagebridge intergenerational dancers and the elder movement ensemble Impromptu No Tutu, and the students particularly enjoyed the familiar prop play explored by Colin Epstein. Shinichi Iova-Koga shared the improvisational process of a “wreck” inspired by Ralph Lemon. The evening ended with hordes of young people performing pieces by danceNaganuma and a tango lesson taught by Jeannette Male and Glenn Corteza. All told, more than 200 people came to see these works and celebrate a community space for dance.

That space was stretched to its limits during our Celebration of Dance Learning the following month. Each May, Luna’s Celebration of Dance Learning showcases the work of the young choreographers in our Studio Lab program. Within that three-hour time frame we also hold the final family dance class of the year. This year, we were packed in like sardines, yet everyone seemed to have fun. More than 80 people came to dance! They ranged in age from infancy to 80. They came from all of our programs: school teachers and their students, families living in residential centers, teachers studying with us, dancers working in the community, and the curious. The common thread: all felt that dance was an important aspect to their lives, all felt “at home” at Luna, and all were open to new experiences. As we expand into our spacious new home, how will we keep up the momentum of developing an inclusive public space for dance?

A characteristic strength of Luna’s community events is the diversity of people who attend them. At the May event I stood next to a young woman who was observing the students’ performances. This was her first visit to Luna, so I was curious to know what she was experiencing. She responded, “Well, I was just sitting next to a woman who says she is in a drug rehabilitation program but makes sure her child dances with Luna every week. I didn’t expect that!” She herself was a new dance teacher who wants to serve her community through the art form. I feel that it is up to us, at Luna, to think about how to create more spaces where teachers can explore what it means to create community, how to reach out to the constituents they care about, and how to articulate the helpful lessons we have learned. We don’t have magic formulas—it is still a marvel to me that people come. My task this year is to closely observe what we do, what happens when we do it, how we communicate, our response when something goes awry, and, as we continue to try to do things better, how we share what is working with other eager, passionate dance professionals.
In the spirit of sharing a space for dance (much needed in the East Bay), we opened our doors to our first free community event with a Teen Dance Jam on July 13. Based loosely on the slumber party concept, the Jam welcomes teens to come and improvise, share music, take dance class, watch movies, and eat organic pizza and popcorn. We’ll continue to open our doors to children and families in Berkeley, Oakland, and beyond, but we’re also focusing our energy on becoming a visible public space for professional learning. We have lots of ideas for doing so, including repeating 20/20 Points of View every other year, alternating with the SFBA Dance Education Forum (2013 will be its fourth presentation). The ongoing FREE and low-cost programming begins on September 4 with a celebratory Launch-the-year, wherein dance teaching artists inaugurate a new school year with a little cocktail party in our new space. Our library will be open every Tuesday and some Saturdays; we’ll continue our FREE professional consultations the last Tuesday of every month; and other Tuesday events include topic- or population-specific Lesson Studies such as Creativity & Technique, Creativity & Chaos—Dance in Elementary, Dance and Children with Special Needs, and more. Unlike workshops, Lesson Studies are not facilitated by one “expert”; rather, they are a gathering of people interested in exploring a certain topic together. The goal of these activities is to strengthen our collective commitment to excellence and authenticity, to build a collegial community of professionals, and to ask questions that will move both Luna and our field forward. For all of us at Luna, the goal remains to deepen our understanding of how we can better serve dance teaching artists and the students they teach.

As I look forward into the future, I see PLACE (one of three of Luna’s articulated Critical Paths) as both somewhat resolved and still evolving.  As Luna become the East Bay resource for dance-makers and educators that I envision, it is essential that we move the shaping of that PLACE out of my hands and into the hands of the future leaders of LDI.  It isn’t that I don’t still see what is possible–I do, and I still have a few things I want to manifest before I retire, but in truth, retire I will and it is my goal that Luna continues past my tenure–with the same values in tact, though the manifestation of those values will change.

As we launch into Fall 2012, it will be full-steam ahead, creating a ten year plan that brings the entire team in–leading to the day when Luna exists and evolves without my daily direction—a process that has already begun.  I look forward to the day when I can bop in to lead a workshop, dress up for an event, or join the advisory board.

Photos: Courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

Patricia Reedy is the Executive Director of Creativity & Pedagogy at Luna Dance Institute. A lifelong learner, she enjoys sharing her inquiry process with others.