“It’s a small world,” continues to ring in my ears with each connection I make in the dance field, as I often find a friend of a friend or colleague of a colleague. What makes our profession seem so small in a country that stretches approximately 3,000 miles wide? It certainly is not the lack of performances, tours, residencies, collaborations and an ever-growing virtual existence of dance. It seems service organizations have the unique ability to bring dance makers, dance shakers, and behind the scene dance supporters all together. The smallness that prevails over the dance field is the feeling when we invariably encounter a colleague with some level of familiarity. Annually, Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, puts its best foot forward to foster more of this familiarity and bring together dance professionals of all vocations in the same city, nay the same room. This year, that city is Philadelphia. Whether connections are minimal or the dance card is filled, what will this convening offer the field of dance or even, what will it offer you?
First, what is the Dance/USA Annual Conference? It is four days of various professional development sessions; workshops focused on professional growth to support the advancement of the field; lectures with tried and true experienced professionals; creative conversation; peers discussing similar challenges; and one-on-one consultations with field experts, sprinkled with performances from local Philadelphia dance companies. It is the broadest national gathering of dance professionals in the United States and all facets of the dance industry are welcome. The conference’s omnipresent gem, however, is the networking that keeps artists and administrators on their toes, no pun intended. Networking in mind, what is Dance/USA doing to facilitate this most sought-after aspect of the conference?
Prior to the Annual Conference, happening June 12-15, is the newly featured Un-Conference, a virtual forum that promotes conversation prior to and during the conference. Dance/USA realizes that with limited time at the conference, attendees might want additional exchanges to those present during breakout sessions, council meetings and plenary speakers. Participants can engage online prior to the conference through Google Moderator and peers may then respond with questions, comments, or cast a vote in favor of an existing topic. The in-person aspect of the Un-Conference will allow for moderated discussion of topics determined by the virtual forum.
Another way to start fueling the networking flame is attending pre-conference events. The day before the conference officially starts, attendees have the chance to meet new and existing colleagues as well as start learning early. There are workshops on stress-relief, racial equity training, school director professional development, Dance/USA’s Institute for Leadership Training and more. Pre-conference events will plant the seed for networking to grow over the following days.
First-time attendees are invited to sign up for the First Timers Breakfast where they meet others looking for tips on how to navigate the conference and get the most out of their experience. It is a great kick-off event that can guarantee some handshakes and ensure seeing a friendly face through the next few days.
Once underway, the Annual Conference has numerous methods to help participants connect one-on-one and within group settings. Attending Breakout Sessions is a way to get in the room with like-minded folks or experience a different perspective from someone who can offer a new way of thinking, but that may not be enough to satisfy a craving for new brains to pick. SmART Bar is the place to sit down for a personal consultation with an industry expert ranging from sustainable practice in the arts, fiscal guidance, arts consultation, technology, emergency preparedness and more. The Philadelphia Host Committee has also arranged performances for conference attendees to engage with the local dance scene. Between performances, sessions and one-on-one conversations are opportunities to comb the crowd for people to keep in a Rolodex, sticky note pile or Smartphone, wherever attendees like to keep contacts.
There is a new, visual way to network this year using the conference Mobile App. Attendees can take pictures with their phones and share them through a picture gallery on the Mobile App. This way, if an event is missed, one can experience it through someone else’s lens. Also, virtually and throughout the conference, Dance/USA will continue to share updates and announcements through Facebook at facebook.com/DanceUSAorg, and on Twitter @DanceUSAorg.
All that said, it is easy to shake hands, hand out business cards, and attend lunch with colleagues, but how can those connections be kept alive post-conference? Dance/USA will post video highlights of signature events on the conference website, so participants can share experiences with their own communities: telling them what was learned, who was met, and what is planned to do with these connections. A personal goal can be to hold oneself accountable for finding ways to fuel a network to actually expand. If new, local connections are made, schedule a meet-up and have a post-mortem of the conference. If the connections are distant, exchange emails about how the conference changed thoughts and perspectives.
Networking is one of the roots of the dance industry, whether a web of contacts is large or small, take a chance to reignite the fire for four days and let these opportunities carry into new discoveries.