Dance People Descend on the Bayou City: Houston Hosts the 2009 Dance/USA Conference

Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, one of the featured companies at The Power Of Movement

photo by Frank White Photography

Houston may not be considered the center of the dance universe year round, but when the Dance/USA’s annual conference convenes from June 3-6, it just might be. The city will fill with dance directors and administrators for the conference, aptly titled, Sustainable Future: Reality Check!, to discuss, share and network strategies for keeping dance going strong in a challenging economy.

The host committee, consisting of the broad spectrum of Houston’s diverse dance community, has been working for over a year to make Houston look good for its visitors. Meetings took place at different locations so the host committee could not only get to know each other but also become more familiar with each member’s organization. So how did Houston end up as the host for the Dance/USA conference? “We lobbied hard it for it,” admits Jim Nelson, co-chair of the Dance/USA host committee and Houston Ballet’s general manager. “Houston Ballet has been active in the organization for years, and we hosted the winter council meeting in the 1990s.” According to Nelson, it’s been an amazing bonding process. “We have been a very active group,” he boasts. “The committee’s level of engagement and attendance has been truly remarkable. We may have raised the job of the host committee to a new level.”

Sandra Organ, artistic director of Sandra Organ Dance Company, has been a Dance/USA member for the past decade and has served on the board from 2002-2008. Organ finds the individual councils for dancers, support service groups, choreographers and managing directors especially valuable for people to hone in on their concerns. Currently, she’s also on the host committee. “Seeing good dance, sharing ground and best practices, what’s not to get about this organization? Collectively, we need each other to support the art form. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel with the business of dance; someone’s been there before and has good advice,” says Organ. “Every year they provide a forum to make connections. You can throw out a question and get an answer from anyone from the executive director of Alvin Alley to Ballet Hispanico.”

Richard Graber, Houston Arts Alliance’s director of grants & services has also served on the host committee and has worked hard in securing funds for local artists to attend. Graber, a dancer turned administrator, knows first hand how important it is for a community to come together for a project. “I think bringing the Dance/USA Conference to Houston is a big achievement for the city and very exciting for our local dance community. It’s been a delight to work closely with the Houston dance community and also help provide support for dancers locally,” says Graber. “My hope is that locals will take advantage of the conference offerings and turn-out in large numbers.”

Showing off Houston’s range of dance talent proved a high priority for the committee so they came up with The Power of Movement, a showcase of Houston’s top 11 dance troupes. “We wanted to show our dance community in the best light possible, in a fully produced and curated show at Cullen Theater at Wortham Center,” says Nelson. “We are hoping some presenters attend, and this event can be a springboard to further opportunities.” The line-up includes Dance of Asian America, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, Hope Stone Dance Company, Houston Ballet, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, Psophonia Dance Company, Revolve Dance Company, Sandra Organ Dance Company, Suchu Dance, Travesty Dance Group, and Urban Souls Dance Company.

Participants of The Power of Movement receive a year-long membership and two registrations to the conference. Hope Stone artistic director Jane Weiner plans on attending the conference. “I am ‘Houston Proud’ of our arts community, and feel so glad that we get a strong and healthy dose of national exposure,” says Weiner, who will be presenting an excerpt of her newest work, Village of Waltz, set to music by Peter Jones. “I looked at the conference topics and am pleased to have so much knowledge in my own backyard.”

The committee has stayed with the sustainable theme and all the events will take place in the downtown theater district so attendees can take Metro or walk to events. With the conference taking place at the Hyatt Regency Houston and performances at the Wortham Center, participants will be able to take in Houston’s impressive collection of theaters. “We want to push Houston as a green city,” says Nelson. The kick-off reception takes place on June 3rd on the roof top of the George R. Brown Convention center, overlooking Houston’s stunning skyline, and Discovery Green, where Houston Dance, Inside Out, a free performance showcasing Houston’s dance community will take place later that evening.

In addition to activity planning, the committee also raised funds from local foundations and corporations. The committee also hopes participants take in some Houston sights as well and have organized a special informational packets on the city’s best sights. For Nelson, who has been attending the conference since 2000, the opportunities to spend such concentrated time with peers is priceless. “The contacts I have made have been absolutely invaluable,” he says. “It’s also great to meet people dealing with the same problems you are. You realize you are not alone and we can all benefit from some fresh thinking on today’s dance world.” All that said, when the hoards of dance people leave Houston, a tighter dance community will remain, new friendships forged, and a new awareness of the vibrancy of Houston’s dance scene. Nelson adds, “The depth of this community is truly extraordinary.”

Dance/USA presents Sustainable Future: Reality Check! from June 3-6. Visit www.danceusa.org. The Power of Movement, held in conjunction with Dance USA, takes place on June 5th 8pm at Cullen Theater, Wortham Center. Call 713-227-2787 or visit www.houstonballet.org.

For information on HAA funds to attend the conference contact Richard Graber at Richard@haatx.comor call 713-527-9330.

The Power of Movement is generously sponsored by Houston Endowment, City of Houston Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Downtown Alliance, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Discovery Green and Methodist Center for Performing Arts Medicine at The Methodist Hospital.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.

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