After making the decision to form a dance company, incorporate and enter the maze of filling out grant applications, it helps to have assistance with the process. I was curious if these artists took advantage of Pentacle LA’s Help Desk during the time that it was working in Los Angeles and if so, was it helpful. I inquired whether or not they used other grant writing programs, booking conferences or workshops that focus on grant writing and/or fundraising, knowing that the pool of funding organizations has diminished over the past few decades.
John Pennington said that he was self-taught. He has been a panelist on several grant organizations, both small and large, national and local. “I learned a lot about writing grants, from reading grants. I went to several workshops that were offered on writing grants. I read books on writing grants. When I started the company, I did all the non-profit paperwork myself. Grant writing has changed over the years so one has to stay current in that area. Also, there aren’t as many grants as there used to be.”
Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts back in 1965 and if my history serves me correctly, it was President Richard Nixon who expanded it, allowing Arts funding to flourish for a period of time. Since the late 1990s, however, arts funding has been periodically slashed leaving the NEA and the California Arts Council budgets but a shadow of what they once were. Additional funding can be applied for through LA County, city, private and corporate channels. It is also true that there are far more companies vying for the same monies than in the past.
Several of the artists that I interviewed used the Help Desk. Ana Maria Alvarez worked with Pentacle for two years and like Christine Suarez they have all received grants.
“I’ve been very fortunate in receiving funding and I got one grant for this six weeks residency. For my next project I got two grants; one from the LA County Commission and one from the City of Santa Monica.” Suarez said.
We have in LA an organization called the Dance Resource Center of Los Angeles (DRC). Since its inception in 1987, it has had many Executive Directors, significant Boards of Directors turnovers and it has gone through lots of self-analysis and re-invention. It has a membership program and a non-membership program, and I was told that at present its membership totals somewhere between 150 and 200. This is sad considering the number of dancers, dance companies and other dance organizations in this area. It speaks volumes regarding the DRC’s disorganization over the past 28 years. One artist related to me that the DRC membership fee for a company could be better used elsewhere.
A couple of the artists spoke highly of the DRC. Stephanie Zaletel was one and said that she uses it as her fiscal organization. This allows, for example, for people to write checks to the DRC and specify that the money go to Zaletel’s company SZALT and to receive a tax deduction for said donations. Lillian Barbeito sends all her students to the DRC website to find out where classes are located. Other artists were more reserved with their answers, stating that the DRC needed a central focus with its mission. The majority of companies advertise concerts and classes through the DRC email blasts. I know as I get at least one per day.
“I would like the Dance Resource Center to become a hub of information for the people who are NOT in the dance world immediately, because I think that that is a CRUCIAL element of Los Angeles dance. As a non-dance-person, WHERE is it? WHERE do I find it?” Laura Karlin said.
“I do have an issue with dividing people as members and non-members. If you’re a member you get special member news and non-member news. If you’re really a service organization, then be a service organization. When I was on the DRC Board that was what I wanted. Every new iteration of the DRC Board goes through the identity issue; what is the DRC?” Said John Pennington.
The DRC recently elected a new Executive Director, Felicia Rosenfeld, and they sent out an email blast describing the DRC’s new Back Office Program. It includes services for artists and companies which include developing a long-term relationship to address the ongoing needs such as fundraising, booking support, marketing, and tour management. One can “Get a three dimensional view on your professional life. Meet and consult with three experts with three different specialties: artistic, financial, and administrative.” If a company already has an Administrative Staff, it can get extra assistance and the DRC’s Back Office will provide you with additional staffing and it provides Professional Development sessions.
This sounds like a positive shift in service, but there is a fairly steep charge for these services. I certainly do not begrudge anyone getting paid for providing services, and the DRC also has to pay rent and salaries. Dance companies and artists are already struggling financially, however, and it would be great if the DRC could receive county, city and state funding to provide these services for free or at a lower cost.
As a performer and choreographer I dreaded reading what the dance critics had to say in their reviews. Critics once yielded a lot more power and they could make or break a company’s future. Now, all these years later, when I am no longer performing or choreographing as often, I find myself on the other side of the page. Critics do not have that same kind of power, but their existence is still an essential ingredient for the success of an artist; be they choreographer, writer, composer, movie maker, painter or playwright.
“I would love to see more people writing about dance.” Ana Maria Alvarez said to me. “I remember that while we were creating a company, the Los Angeles Times was doing away with its official dance reviews. This happened simultaneously while we were just building a company and while others in LA were building a company.
That was 10 years ago and we’re at an entirely different place in the city now in terms of dance. I think that the Los Angeles Times needs a dance reviewer. We need to be actually playing in the field of what’s happening, and recording and documenting what’s happening.”
“I wish that there was more coverage.” Lillian Barbeito said. “When we last performed at the Broad Stage all four works on the program had never been seen in Los Angeles, and nobody wrote about it. Not one review, not one blog! There were works by Hofesh Shechter, Victor Quijada, Richard Segal, and an up-and-comer Joshua Peugh. It was such a stellar program and not one word was written.”
Laurie Sefton believes that critics are important to get Dance in LA to the next level. “I think that people should learn that there is a difference between choreographing and directing. I think that needs to be taught in a university. As far as when I was in school, or in all the experience I ever had, I’ve never heard anyone talk about that. And that’s a problem.”
Stephanie Zaletel said that the only two people that have reviewed her work are Debra Levine for Meme, an online publication, and me for SeeDance.com. “That’s another thing that’s been tough.” She said. “It has been difficult to be reviewed because we are so new, no one really cares what SZALT is yet. Once I can get writers and press to a show then we can develop more of a relationship. That is one reason that attending shows is so important for me; they keep seeing my face. They are probably thinking, ‘Oh, you are that girl that keeps emailing me!’”
To help get the word out, I post links to my reviews and articles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, the CSULB Department of Dance websites and anywhere else that I can get access. My hope is that others on these sites will be kind enough to re-post them. Ann Haskins is doing a great deal to help promote dance in LA with her wonderful articles for the L.A. Weekly. We need more writers like her.
Because we are in the age of the Internet, I asked everyone if they utilized their websites to get bookings, grants, selling tickets or for any other purposes that they wanted to share. Most do and others are learning how.
Harry Weston said, “Yes. Social Media has been huge. Social Media has really helped us get the word out for our events; helping people get to know us and it’s definitely helped us with our publicity.”
Laurie Sefton partnered with a local high school’s internship program. “I had two interns for three weeks in the summer. They mainly worked on research. They spent two solid weeks researching funding and social media. They went through all my social media stuff and we had all those discussions; do I need to have an Instagram? What is Periscope? Do I need to have one?”
Everyone stated the importance of using social media. “We have our website; and the website is the landing place.” Said Laura Karlin. “It’s where we hope people will go when that want to know about shows. The point is to drive people there so that they can buy tickets or to make reservations. We’re on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram. At its best, it allows for connection and conversation that can deepen and engage more people.”
My last two questions for the artists focused on the future of their companies and their vision for Dance in Los Angeles. Everyone wanted their work to be seen by more people throughout the United States and other countries. Each of them wanted to be able to put their dancers on salary and almost every one of them wanted more consistency and security in where they rehearsed. In regards to the future of Dance in Los Angeles, the answers were fairly consistent.
Rosanna Gamson: “The future of the company is that I want to make more work. I would love to see a real festival that is tiered to provide real opportunity for the top end, for the middle and for the starting-out-ers. It would be a week-end and it would be multi-venue. It could be at a place where they have many spaces on site like Northridge or UCLA, or the new USC. I think that would be great where you’re running from performance to performance.”
Harry Weston: “I would love to see more support of each other. I can’t say that we do that for the modern (dance) world, and it is something that we could do, but I would love to see more of that. More dancers coming to shows. More dancers promoting each other through their newsletters.”
John Pennington: “I want a solid infrastructure. I want a group of dancers that I can work with for an extended period of time and to pay them well. I want the luxury of time and the luxury of touring. We also need investment in LA dancers and dance companies.”
Laurie Sefton: “The buzz about LA dance is gigantic in New York and nationally, and the fact that our community can’t seem to come together to make this thing move forward for everyone is really sad.
“One other thing that we didn’t discuss is that we need to have Dance seen as a part of the culture of Los Angeles. Do we have a tourism board that we can connect with? We have so many types of dance here and some of it is really amazing. We need the city to work with us to promote Dance as an integral and historical part of the culture here. Maybe that would be something that the DRC should do for the community. Not just ‘culturally significant/ethnic’ dance, but Modern dance and all of what we were talking about with Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Lester Horton, Isadora Duncan, Twyla Tharp and Bella Lewitzky.”
Jamie Carbetta: “A true sense of community would be a Godsend. There are a few companies like BODYTRAFFIC and Heidi Duckler’s company that has a national presence; that have been able to launch themselves, but as a whole, that hasn’t really happened. But a sense of community and growing artistically, and everyone going to each others shows. It happens in pockets.”
Stephanie Zaletel: “I think on a larger scale that I would like to see more support within the dance community toward the dance community.”
Laura Karlin: “I love the people in this community. There is so much going on that I actually can’t see everything, which makes me sad for me, but makes me really happy for LA. We’re at this real tipping point now where I feel that we’re 8 years in and we’ve expanded all of our programs this year. We’re going on our first regional tour. I don’t know if all this points to a consistent upward growth, but it feels like we have some momentum and it feels like we’re thinking bigger picture.”
Heidi Duckler: “I think finding a way for people to talk and get together, and not be so competitive and afraid. Generally get to know each other in a safe environment and be able to play. You know, and think about ourselves and each other without so much judgement. Let’s enjoy what we do and learn from each other so we can grow.”
Ana Maria Alvarez: “There is so much money here, but the culture of philanthropy is not part of the culture here in Los Angeles. So, if I could shift anything it would be that someone like the Herb Albert Foundation or someone like the California Community Foundation would take on working with people in the community who have money to take on Philanthropy.
“The other thing is space. Having a city-wide, county-wide commitment to have artists having access to space. Artists are just looking for a place to be and to exist, and to set up powerful programming. I would love to see our city and our county, and our region take on that, giving artists a space to call home and create work.”
Deborah Brockus: “I want to dance. I want to tour. I want my work to be seen by different people. I want what I’ve always wanted, a standing company. I want something steady. I want steady dancers because I want my voice to be in my choreography and until I go back to what I used to have, which is constant rehearsals, my voice is not in my choreography the way I want it to be.
“The connective fibers of our town are missing. That is what we started to realize with Sasha (Anawalt) starting to do the Dance Map. We suddenly realized how many dance circles there are in Los Angeles. The circles aren’t connected, so you don’t realize we’re the leading social dance town or that with Latin Dance we’re huge.” Brockus added.
Dance has been very good to me throughout the years, as has the LA dance community. My hope is that this article has allowed me in some small way to give back to a community who has supported me throughout my 37 years here. I so enjoyed spending time with these amazing artists, all of whom love Dance and Los Angeles. It saddens us that people elsewhere do not know about what high quality work is taking place here. Sasha Anawalt’s Dance Map, dancemapla.com is helping to unite the Dance Community.
Arsen Serobian is offering great rates for services here on SeeDance.com that assist dance companies, artists and teachers to advertise and promote their work seedance.com/plans-and-pricing. Hopefully others will come up with ideas on how to spread the word about dance in LA. We need coverage and we need funding. The Dance Community deserves for the world to know that we exist and that what is taking place in Los Angeles is truly incredible.
I really hope that Lillian Barbeito is correct when she said to me during our interview that she believes Los Angeles will soon become a major hub for dance. Let’s prove that one Dance Magazine writer wrong. Please support each others work, both concert and commercial dance. It is a two way street after all. Dance is a huge art form, encompassing endless styles and genres, and she is a very tough mistress that should be honored and respected.
The companies in this article are but a few in a city that includes Modern Dance, Ballet, Contemporary Dance, African-American Dance, New Dance, Experimental Dance, Hip Hop, Street Dance, Commercial Dance, Flamenco, Tap, Cambodian Dance, Korean Dance, Indian Dance and I’m sure that I have inadvertently left out someone. Not all of it is great and some of it is bad! But the same can be said about dance everywhere; yes, even in New York City, Dance Mecca. LA dance needs to be seen, supported, written about, recorded and archived.
Check out www.dancehistoryproject.org
Once again I would like to thank the artists in this interview for their generosity and the willingness to share their experience and knowledge.
The Introduction, and Parts 1 and 2 of this article can be found at SeeDance.com/News or by clicking here: seedance.com/news/introduction-to-making-dance-work-in-la, seedance.com/news/making-dance-work-in-la-part-1, seedance.com/news/making-dance-work-in-la-part-2
To contact Jeff Slayton directly: firstname.lastname@example.org