Rachel Caldwell graduated from the University of North Texas with a BFA in Dance and from Mills College with a MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography. She is from Houston, Texas, where she grew up studying ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop and Scottish highland dance. Rachel is a Contributing Editor for Dance Teacher and writes the History and K-12 columns.
Allegra Bautista in Nevertheless, by ka·nei·see | collective. Photo by Robbie Sweeny
An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.
"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.
With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.
Gibney's Hands Are For Holding program. Scott Shaw, Courtesy Gibney
There's a big difference between one-size-fits-all outreach projects that exist to check a box on a grant application and work that has a lasting impact. As more dance companies incorporate engagement efforts into their seasons, they're finding that truly purposeful projects require careful consideration of the communities they serve.
DFA fellow Prumsodun Ok uses Cambodian classical dance to address LGBTQ issues. Here, Ok's Robam Santhyea Vehea. Photo by Nobuyuki Arai, Courtesy Ok
In a watershed move, a new program from Dance/USA has awarded $1,000,525 to 31 dance artists whose work addresses increasingly prominent social issues. Funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists (DFA) offers fellows $32,275 in completely unrestricted funding.