Highlights from the Dance/USA Annual Conference in DC

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Dance/USA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. As a first-timer to the conference and a lowly dancer stepping into the world of established leaders of dance, I approached the week ready to learn and to absorb every possible experience that I could. While the days were jam-packed and at times overwhelming, the entire experience was absolutely amazing. I learned so much and talked to so many people that I’m still trying to put the pieces together. But while I continue to process, I’d like to take some time to share the major highlights from my experience at the conference.

Louise Slaughter’s keynote address: New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter gave a wonderful keynote address to kick off the conference. (The full transcript can be found here on Slaughter’s blog.) It was so encouraging to hear someone working so hard for government support fror the arts. When someone asked her what she needs from artists to help her cause, she told us to simply keep creating the art, and she will keep fighting for it. Her efforts and conviction certainly inspire me to continue doing my part.

Break-out sessions: Each of the 5 break-out sessions I attended was a unique learning experience. I particularly enjoyed one entitled “Thriving Outside of America’s Cultural Hotspots,” which explored how dance can decentralize away from the few main cities and succeed across the country. I think this is such an important idea for the field to embrace, so that dance can be brought to more and more people. And the panel of representatives from companies around the country really helped shed some light on how this is being done and what needs to happen to make it easier. I was almost convinced by the end to pack up my bags and move out of NYC (almost).

2 evenings of great performances: One night we attended a mixed bill of ballet at the Kennedy Center, and the following night was a mixed performance of local DC artists and companies at the Lansburgh Theatre. Standouts included the best Bharata Natyam performer I have ever seen, Dr. Janaki Rangarajan, and an exciting and impressive stepping piece from Step Afrika!.

Live streaming video!: That’s right. Two tech-crazy busy-bodies of the dance world, Tim Cynova and Sydney Skybetter, have started a video streaming channel online for various discussions about dance. Though I had little to contribute when I joined one of the live sessions during the conference, it was certainly a fun and interesting experience. I recommend checking out all the videos on their channel as they include some great people having sometimes poignant and often ludicrous conversations.

Conversations: I had heard going into it that one of the most important parts of the conference is the informal conversations you have with people, often with a drink in hand, and I definitely found this to be the case. I tried to take advantage of every free moment and ended up having countless wonderful conversations, some that have continued even after the conference. My favorite questions were ‘What do you do?’ and ‘What difficulties do you face?’ – simple but enlightening.

Being in the same room as Robert Battle, Lar Lubovitch, Gus Solomons, Jr., and Carmen De Lavallade: And many other amazing people in dance. And not just in any room, but the U.S. Botanical Gardens in DC. Price-less.

In conclusion, getting an average of 4 hours of sleep for 5 nights in a row was completely worth it. I think the Dance/USA Annual Conference is a must for all those in dance administration, but it’s also a great experience for others in dance as well. (In fact, I feel the representation of all aspects of the dance world is important to furthering the organization of Dance/USA.) As for me, I look forward to more participation with Dance/USA in the future, including next year’s conference, if possible.

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