Dorfman in his Come, and Back Again. Ian Douglas, Courtesy Dorfman

Is Dance Underfunded Because It's Undervalued?

I hate asking for money. I am tired of feeling like we, as dance practitioners, are constantly begging for every morsel of sustenance. We are often seen as the poor stepchildren of the arts, usually thought of as having nothing tangible to sell.



Even talking about money is partially taboo in our field. Once we don the "artist cap," and in this case, the "dance artist" cap, an old-school mentality takes over: the idea of "working for love," without decent pay, without decent circumstances, without decent conversation on the subject.

How did dance get stuck with this devalued image?

Maybe it's because we are such body-based creators and this gives the world (and ourselves) the impression that enjoyment and gratification should be enough, and that we don't need proper compensation. Or maybe the ever-present puritanical, tyrannical practice of body shaming keeps us feeling unworthy and less important.

Society does ascribe value and will use hard-earned money to watch bodies compete against each other in an arena—they cheer as people are beaten or maimed gladiator-style in popular sports. Similarly, large amounts of money are made off the backs of hopeful contestants on reality shows. They sing and dance and display a multitude of talents, but somehow audiences are fooled into believing they're watching entertainers, not artists.

Our societal values honor competition, and we march subconsciously toward the idea of victory, aligning ourselves with those we believe have what it takes to be victorious. What if instead we were taught in school to value the simplicity of witnessing and participating in life without the desire to conquer? Would artists start to be worthy of more mass appeal?

David Dorfman Dance in the world premiere of Aroundtown at Bates Dance Festival.

Adam Campos, Courtesy Dorfman

Enough complaining—for now. How do we ensure that all new theaters have sprung floors, that all professional dancers have benefits, that all touring companies at least break even? How do we cultivate both monetary support and dignity so that choreographers and dancers are valued as legitimate creators that are fervently contributing necessary cultural DNA for present and future generations?

Dancemakers: Talk about money with the same knowledge and passion with which we talk about our mentors, our dances and the art form's history. Research the roots of our current capitalist value system and know it intimately. We are the creative thinkers. Think and strategize your way into prosperity. Consider it a mind-set, which is what successful for-profit companies have mastered. Be rigorous about making art that teems with value. Connect with patrons, foundations, government entities and corporate sponsors. Sit down with people who have resources and believe you have something to offer them. Tell them what you need in order to make your art and how their investment will elevate our country's cultural fabric.

It's not about an Instagrammable moment, but about creating something of lasting substance. Art has the power to shift society, and you must believe you're responsible for doing so. Be willing to risk being "bad" at having important conversations until you become quite good at it; then repeat and mentor others.

I actually dislike the term "artist," as it strikes me as pretentious too much of the time. Let's think of ourselves more as artisans who are literally creating "things" (albeit ethereal) for people to take home with them—in their hearts, in their memories.

Let's acknowledge what the actual cost of making dances is, ask for the funds and negotiate until we get what we need. Perhaps a sea change will take place over the next decade, one that will create a different kind of world: Sprung dance floors become the norm, and dancers don't worry when a doctor's visit is necessary or if their lives can be full of abundance. A world where a dancer walks down the street believing they're of value to society.

If we reshape value, we're letting the world know that we add value to it—we are value. As I say to the dancers in my company and the students I teach: "Movement is necessary."

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Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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