Regaining an American Foothold in the International Dance Scene

By Carolelinda Dickey Andrea E. Snyder


According to a survey conducted for Dance/USA in 1991, national dance touring companies earned approximately 40% of their income from international engagements. The majority of companies stated that international touring generated a profit. Eighteen years later, in 2009, a survey conducted for Dance/USA painted a different, bleaker picture for dance companies who tour internationally.

72% incur a financial loss when touring abroad
57% tour abroad only once per year
32% of international engagements are “run-outs” lasting less than 1-week in duration

This bleak picture is a crisis of lost economic opportunities for American dance, but it is also an obstacle to nourish the creative process for American choreographers through access and exposure to new ideas and art forms.

Over the years, we (Carolelinda Dickey and Andrea Snyder) have noted the effort and expense that foreign national cultural institutes have invested in promoting their artists. Tours are routinely subsidized and American programmers are frequently invited to foreign festivals to see companies. After many years of observing how our international colleagues work, we came to better understand that international exchange exists not only because of the subsidy, but because personal relationships have developed with American programmers and the programmers have become very familiar with the work. Some American programmers told us that they have more opportunities to see international work live than they have to see American work. It is not the large budgets of foreign governments or a hierarchy of aesthetic taste that has hampered the international touring of American artists, but the personal relationships that have not been built over the years and the inability of international programmers to see work live that has made the difference.

As a result of the 2009 research to identify a strategic international plan for American dance, we launched American Dance Abroad in 2011 with the objective to strengthen and increase the export of American dance by implementing a range of projects that employs two primary strategies:

1. Promote relationship building between American dance artists/companies and international programmers/artists
2. Encourage international programmers to better understand, appreciate and present American dance artists/companies.

In particular, American Dance Abroad’s strategic approach to strengthen global opportunities for American dance is the need to increase and enhance opportunities for international programmers to see American dance in live performance. Believing that there is no better way for a programmer to fully appreciate the potential of work than to experience it live, American Dance Recon was launched in the fall of 2012 in New York City.

With funding from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, American Dance Abroad hosted 12 presenters from the Pacific Rim, Eastern Europe, Mexico and South America in New York City. Over 4 ½ days, they visited studios and theatres from Brooklyn to Harlem, seeing work in performance as well as informal showings and open rehearsals. Esteemed dance journalist and author, Deborah Jowitt provided context for the evolution of dance in America, and the international programmers met for a working lunch with their NYC presenter counterparts. All 12 participated in a Dance/NYC -sponsored town hall panel discussion attended by approximately 75 dance community professionals.

It was an exhausting as well as exhilarating week for all, but more importantly the success of American Dance Recon/NYC was immediate and resounding. All 12 presenters confirmed that the intimate environment and access to individual companies gave them a wonderful in-depth appreciation for the diversity of dance in New York City. Within two months, several presenters began discussing performance dates with artists they met; discussions and negotiations are underway. The Pacific Rim presenters have stayed connected in the hope of creating touring opportunities for dance artists they mutually find interesting. Still further, several international presenters are interested in linking with NYC dance presenters for cross-border presentations and co-productions.

With the encouragement of dance professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area, American Dance Abroad has begun conversations to inaugurate the American Dance Recon concept to the Bay Area in the fall 2013.

American Dance Recon/SF will be a 4½-day symposium for 10-12 international programmers to take place in the San Francisco Bay Area in fall 2013. The objective is to provide invited international programmers with information and personal experiences about Bay Area dance that will enable them to more fully and actively engage in meaningful partnerships with dance artists/companies and to return home with deeper understanding of the vital dance scene in the Bay Area. The symposium will guide the programmers through a prescribed daily schedule of discussion sessions, artists’ rehearsals, facility tours and performances.

The invited international programmers will represent festivals, theaters, dance centers and residency programs, and will be selected from the Pacific Rim, Latin and South America and non-Western Europe. The individual selection will focus on programmers who have expressed an interest in learning more about American dance, especially those who have the ability and resources to enter into productive partnerships with American dance companies or are in a position to influence the decision making of others. We will seek individuals who are newer or less well known within the international scene, perhaps some who rarely, if ever, come to the U.S.

American Dance Recon/SF will follow a framework similar to the successfully implemented program in New York City. Performance schedules are being researched to determine when a critical mass of presentations occurs to capitalize on showing work that is fully realized. For those companies that are not performing during this time they will be asked for rehearsal schedules and when programmers might be welcomed into studios to view work. To ensure the greatest diversity and quality of dance in the Bay Area, advice from Bay Area colleagues and venues has or will be sought. It is important that we identify a time when there is a critical mass of activity because we want the invited programmers to gain a solid understanding of the dance matrix in the Bay Area. As the largest dance market on the West Coast, we want them to understand the importance of the Bay Area.

The symposium will include live performances, open rehearsals, panel and roundtable discussions, and site visits to important Bay Area dance venues and organizations. It is essential that the programmers see a full range of dance under a variety of unique situations. The group will meet at spaces and theaters, some of which are world famous, such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Ballet, and some which are grassroots organizations directly serving artists, such as Alonzo King LINES Ballet, ODC Theater and Dance Commons among others. The symposium will guide the programmers through a prescribed daily schedule orchestrated to ensure that the programmers experience the great diversity that represents the Bay Area and American dance scene. Depending on travel and density of activity, each day may be hosted in a specific area of the region known for its richness of dance resources (e.g., Berkeley, San Francisco’s Market Street corridor, Oakland, etc.) and possibly a look at the world-class artist communities at Djerassi and the Headlands.

The reader might have noticed that the program is titled American Dance Recon/SF [San Francisco], even though the region is more appropriately called the Bay Area. American Dance Abroad has learned that linguistics and subtext plays an important role when working internationally. No matter what the genre or style of dance, we are all American dance. No matter where a choreographer or company lives and works in the Bay Area, to the international community you are part of the “San Francisco dance scene.”

San Francisco is potentially an enormous market for international dance exchange and a market that is an especially desirable destination for Pacific Rim and South American programmers. For this first edition of American Dance Recon/SF, it will not be possible to include every choreographer and company, but American Dance Abroad will try to include as many as possible. ADA will provide the international programmers with DVD collections of work so those companies who cannot be seen will still have visibility. Dancers’ Group will host an open town hall to which all dance professionals in the region will be welcome. The work of ADA is designed to build lasting relationships that will systemically change how American dance companies engage on the international scene. While lasting success will be measured over time, some Bay Area artists and companies are likely to see immediate short term results as individual programmers are drawn to individual artists. In other cases, relationship building and negotiations may continue into future seasons. The most important goal of American Dance Recon/SF is that the international programmers leave San Francisco with a positive and energized understanding of the great work that is made in the Bay Area and, most importantly, that dance in the Bay Area takes so many wonderful forms.

We are eager to hear your ideas and thoughts about American Dance Recon/SF. Please email or through the ADA website

This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of In Dance.

Carolelinda Dickey and Andrea Snyder co-direct American Dance Abroad using a lean and nimble business model. Flexibility and fast turnaround on projects is critical to working on an international level. To succeed, the American dance community needs to mirror the best practices of their international colleagues. ADA's presence needs to be most visible on a global level. Therefore, support staff and project-specific support is retained as needed. Overhead is kept low and the work environment is technologically smart. Dickey and Snyder have worked together on a project basis for over 12 years, focusing on the international needs and opportunities facing American dance artists and companies. Their collective knowledge of dance as well as their personal global networks serves the goal of American Dance Abroad. Also, Dickey and Snyder are committed to passing on their knowledge and experience to the next generation. Three volunteer, post-graduate interns currently assist the Co-Directors in website maintenance, database development and research.