A New Initiative From South Arts Gives Southern Dance Companies the Tools to Thrive

Simon Soong, Courtesy DDT

When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.

Though South Arts has been working with dance presenters for 10 years to bring modern dance and contemporary ballet to the region, they recently realized there was a gap in their strategy: Presenters were mostly bringing in artists from other parts of the country. Even the ones who expressed interest in presenting local companies often didn't know who to work with. "Many Southern dance companies are newer," says program director Nikki Estes. "They don't have the national recognition. I think the perception perhaps was that the artistic quality wasn't as high."

In profile, two men lunge towards each other, their backs to the camera and outside arm raised overhead. Their inside hands are grasped by a woman, whose arms are crossed as she leans toward the camera in an attitude pench\u00e9.

Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami in Ariel Rose's Esferas

Simon Soong, Courtesy DDT

Momentum was born of a desire to serve these artists directly. South Arts looked for smaller, emerging companies pro­ducing strong work but lacking resources. Out of 37 applicants, they selected Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami; Helen Simoneau Danse in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; New Dialect in Nashville; staibdance in Avondale Estates, Georgia; and Wideman Davis Dance in Columbia, South Carolina. This year, the five troupes will have the chance to network with presenters, be paired with a mentor and attend a weeklong residency to put a touring program together. In the second and third years of the initiative, each company will give a showcase at South Arts' annual Performing Arts Exchange, where they're convening this month.

"South Arts is really dedicated to educating us and investing in this becoming something that we can sustain on our own," says Jennifer Kronenberg, co-artistic director of Dimensions Dance Theater. She's eager to learn "how to make our rep as tour-friendly as we can, how to pare down without offering a lesser product—all these different things that go into making touring feasible for a smaller company."

Estes hopes that Momentum will be successful enough to continue after the initial three years. "I think part of our larger role is to put a spotlight on Southern artists," she says, "and show them that they don't have to move to the West Coast or to New York in order to create their work. We're hopefully showing that artists can live, work and thrive in the South."

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