Dancehunter Turns ONE and Talks to Herself

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Photo by Nancy and Phillip Wozny

How did you decide to enter the blogosphere?
I found out my son had reviewed Sean Curran on his LiveJournal. I figured that if my son could review dance, I could as well. Plus, I finished the eighth grade. Also, it’s good to get the voices in your head out. A blog is a perfect home for all of them.

What inspired you to create Dancehunter?
I wasn’t inspired. I was depressed and frustrated. If no one hires you to write about dance, you hire yourself. I worked for peppermint mochas until I quit Starbucks. But then I missed my Starbucks friends so I discovered peppermint tea. BYW, more people have hired me to write about dance this year but I’ve managed to stay off the pepperming mochas.

The name Dancehunter seems a tad violent.
I am more of the “catch and release” kind of hunter. I agree “hunt” is an aggressive word. When something starts disappearing it calls for strong word. “Dancefinder” seemed too milquetoast for me.

Why is dance disappearing?
Disappearing is a strong word. I would say there is less dances around. Seasons are shorter, groups are performing less. Several groups cancelled or postponed concerts. Two Houston companies have closed shop in the past few years, Weave, and just recently, Chrysalis.

Disappearing is what dance does best. It’s an ephemeral art form.

Is ephemerality a problem?
It is in a culture that overvalues products and permanence.

Were there other factors?
Yes. I was becoming increasingly concerned that dance was disappearing from our collective consciousness. Last summer I went to huge bookstore and asked for the dance section. He directed me to the one dance book– something like Mambo for Dummies. He replied that no one had ever asked for the “dance section” before. That’s astounding information to me.

No, whenever I go into a book store I check out the size of the dance section (if there is one). Often dance merits half of shelf while music gets several, film and visual arts as well. I think everyone that reads this should ask for the dance section at their local bookstore. Perhaps, they will get the idea that more than half a shelf is a good idea.

Where do you get your dance watching chops?
I have no attention span and an airtight memory–a mighty combo for dance watching.

Do you miss making art?
All the time. I usually have one home-based art project happening all the time. At the moment I have this interactive project with a puppet and a glass vase. The puppet is rearranged in the vase everyday. It’s very funny. Some people look at it and want to slip me their therapist’s number.

Where have all the dance celebrities gone?
News on the street claims that the lack of household names has added to dance’s declining popularity. We live in a celebrity dominant culture and long gone are the days of big name dance stars hanging with the Hollywood set. It would help to have a first lady that did a decade or so with Paul Taylor. Where do we find her?

Is the political climate a factor?
The post-patriot act neocon fundamentalist regime isn’t ideal for free expression. I don’t envision the current administration as an embodied set. Eventually the players will change and it will get better. It can’t get worse.

What about deep-seated cultural ills?
Yeah we got em’. I can’t say we are living in a body loving culture. We like our bodies skinny, well dressed, sculpted and reduced to a level of a “thing.” Dance reminds people that bodies are the most sensual thing in the universe. Lots of people just aren’t ready for that.

Where is dance showing up these days?
DH: In television commercials. Dance is used to sell everything. There’s even a post-modern car commercial. So once you buy that thing, why don’t you all come to a dance concert?

Did you complain about the status quo of dance coverage?
DH; Dancers, by nature, are polite, non-complaining, people. I’m from Buffalo, NY, the complaining capital of the universe. In addition, I am of Italian dissent. We elevate whining to an art form. I try to disguise my complaints as opportunities. Dance and dancers are cool. Editors should be happy to have dance stories in their publications. Mostly, once they get it, they are.

So what have you accomplished so far?
62 pieces in just over a year. I wanted to highlight dancers. Enough about choreographers! Let’s elevate the dancer, the one in the trenches,who is making all you choreographers look good. I have done two dancer interviews, one on Penny Tschirhart, one of my favorite dancers, and another on The Houston Met’s Joe Calej, also a fabulous dancer, and a Buffaloian. I also loved speaking with Roxanne Claire about her work re-inventing the dance recital.

As a former dancer I remain interested in the way dancers carry on, or, like myself, decide not to carry on. They are the unsung heroes of the community. Not everyone wants to make dances, some want to be the ones who do the dancing. They need some boosting in my mind.

What about new forms of writing?
We need them—more in-between pieces. Previews and reviews are just two choices. What about everything that happens in between? I am particularly interested in what happens after an event. Often there is a bit of a let down. The event is over; you might get review if you are lucky. You get your VISA bill, it’s often worse than the review, and you are back to being someone who is not doing anything. Dance is funny that way. You are only in the limelight before and during an event. After an event is a rich time to speak to an artist. Every time we create a performance we learn thing that will be useful to others. Why not share what we learned?

DH: What about dance audiences?
I would like to see them gain weight. My favorite dance moment in Houston occurred when about 100 extra people showed up to the JCC to see a concert. I was one of them. We were put in a holding room while Maxine Silberstein gave us updates on empty seats. I ended up going home without seeing the concert but the enthusiasm alone was enough for me.

I attended two concerts last year where the number of people on stage was dangerously close to the number of people in the audience. I found this disheartening. Once I had a student that would thank all of my other students for coming that day. I thought it was an odd practice. I get it now; if they didn’t come, there would be no class. If you don’t support dance there will be no dance to support.

What about some practical ideas for building audiences?
How about “drag a friend to dance” day. Make it an informed choice; don’t take Aunt Flo to DiverseWorks if she prefers Gilbert and Sullivan. Try and match the person to the event. You could be building an audience of new dance lovers. We also need to figure out why the thousands of kids on drill and dance teams rarely develop a lifelong love of dance. How can dancers start loving dance watching?

Use the internet. Develop lists of friends and contacts. Send Evites announcing performances. Learn more about how to use the internet at http://greatdance.com/danceblog/whitepapers/embracingblogs.pdf. Your audience is only a send button away.

What about dancers supporting dance?
There is a host of sound reasons why dancers don’t go to more dance events. Here’s the quick list: money, fatigue, too much like work, a need to stay artistically isolated, and time. How about if each dancer wentto see one group per season (that have not seen yet) as a way of supporting the art form. It would be like an arts tax.

What about engaging your community?
Communities for dancers have changed over time. When I was dancing I was teaching dance and my students were intrinsically interested in dance. It wasn’t such a stretch to invite them to see my concerts. Many dancers teach Pilates and their clients are not necessarily dance lovers. We build audiences from the people in our world; at least we do that until we are super famous or get lots of press.

Do you think it’s important for a dance critic to have a dance background?
I am of three minds on this.
Mind #1
Having created at least one bad dance and one good dance informs my writing.
Having choreographed 30 or so dances gives me a fluency in the form.
Mind #2
I know how hard making a dance can be. I may be overly sympathetic to the choreographer’s situation. An abundance of empathy clouds judgment.
Mind #3
It’s most important to have a rigorous mind and then it doesn’t really matter what you did or did not do.

Do you have any advice for choreographers?
Critics are not in the advice business. With that said, here’s some advice. The Field http://www.thefield.org/ lends an enormous opportunity for choreographers. In The Field the work speaks for itself as the choreographer does not verbally defend their work. There is no “this piece is about world peace.” You will find that what’s in your head has a better chance of getting on the stage.

What has enlarged your thinking about dance?
I overheard a conversation between two high school students about a Latin dance club called HOLA. Apparently the old choreographer was ousted in favor or a new guy that promised a more hip-hop edge to their repertoire. It occurred to me that dance forms evolve every moment and that this little upheaval could be the butterfly that flapped its wings and changed the look of Latin dance.

I interviewed Janet Rarick, an Artist Teacher of Woodwinds and Professional Development at Shepard School of Music at Rice University, for Houston Woman Magazine. She has developed a website that helps musicians think more broadly about their art form. Rarick’s work points to the way in which musicians participate in the future health of their art from. I think dance people could benefit from that kind of thinking.

What has improved in the dance culture?
We have some wonderful artists doing fine work that deserve national attention. Some are getting it. As for venues, consider Barnevelder. When I first saw the place with that slopping floor I thought it was going to be a challenge to build a viable performance space. They did. Louie Saletan and his crew of volunteers created a very exciting and affordable place for dancers to rehearse and perform.

Where can I find other dance blogs?
http://greatdance.com/danceblog/

Are you the only dance blogger in Houston?
No. Visit http://silverslippers.blogspot.com/

What to you do when you are not moving or writing about movement?
I watch medical TV shows. I’m pretty sure it adds up to at least one year of medical school. I think I could scrub in on a one-way bypass without a hitch. Also, I write SPA stories. It’s hard and exhausting work but someone has to do it.

What did you learn as a Fellow at the ADF’s Institute for Dance Criticism?
-To lighten up on the adjectives and somatic jargon
-There are a hundred ways to see a dance
-To mention the music, the lighting, things other than bodies moving through space, and maybe a name or two would be nice
-To work on this thing called a “lead,” which supposely draws the reader in, but honestly, why is this reader so lazy that they have to be teased along?
-the joys of a fine Pinot Grigio

Any last words?
Dance is great because it reguires no stuff whatsoever. You should do it and see it more.

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