Building on momentum.

In case you haven't caught on yet, I'm a tad enthusiastic about anything that strengthens, kick starts, or breathes new life into the dance scene here in the District. So with the launch of two new grants by Dance Metro DC (DMDC), the Rehearsal Space Subsidy Lottery and the Choreographers' Commission grant, I was eager to get the details out to everyone as soon as possible. 

I threw a bunch of questions at DMDC Director, Stephen Clapp, and got the full scoop behind these initiatives: how they'll work, who's involved, and what's in it for everyone in the DC dance community. 

Cynthia Word, of Word Dance Theatre. Photo by Theo Kossenas.

Cynthia Word, of Word Dance Theatre. Photo by Theo Kossenas.

EFM: Stephen, I am immensely excited for these two new grants offered by Dance Metro DC. Can you explain exactly what their purposes are and how they will work?

SC: Sure! Dance Metro DC is delighted to announce two new grant programs designed to put resources directly into the hands of artists, strengthen existing dance networks in the region, and reach the full spectrum of the DC area dance community. 

The Rehearsal Space Subsidy Lottery is all about increasing the accessibility of rehearsal / studio space for dance-makers in the DC metropolitan area. Dance Metro DC will award 4 (four) Rehearsal Space Subsidy Grants at $500 each towards the costs of rehearsal / studio space. Subsidy payments will be made directly to the studio / venue identified by the selected applicants. Rehearsal Space Subsidy Program Grantees will be selected by random lottery from the pool of eligible applicants.

The Choreographer’s Commission Grant program exists to support the creation and development new dance works created by dance-makers in the DC metropolitan area. Dance Metro DC will award 3 (three) commission grants at $2,000 each towards the development of new work by DC area choreographers. The commission grant program will also include a series of monthly professional development sessions aimed at helping dance artists and choreographers to strengthen their position in the field and enhance the business skills necessary to successfully thrive as a choreographer in the DC area. 

EFM: I also understand there is a partnership with Dance Place for the final showing of these works, is that right?

Kelly King and Emily Arden; choreography by Melissa Bustamante. Photo by Michael Avilez.

Kelly King and Emily Arden; choreography by Melissa Bustamante. Photo by Michael Avilez.

SC: Yes, right. Thanks to a partnership with Dance Place, the selected commissionees will be presented in a shared evening concert in the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Theater at Dance Place on September 12 & 13, 2015.

EFM: Tell us about the professional development workshops that will be launched in as a part of the Commission Grant. I understand those are open to the public, as well….

SC: Yes. Integral to this program are seven professional development component sessions. These monthly sessions will be free for the selected commissionees and will be open to the public for a nominal fee of $15 per session. Dance Metro DC members may participate for $5 per session. There will be 4 sessions that are currently scheduled as follows:

  • January 26, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: fundraising workshop
  • March 30, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: budgeting and finance training
  • April 27, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: writing about your work
  • June 29, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: marketing and publicity 

In addition to these sessions, commissionees will engage in three peer/mentor/invited guest feedback sessions, modeled after both the Fieldwork process and Liz Lerman’s Critical Response process. These facilitated feedback sessions will not be open to the public, but will include guests invited by the artists, as well as special community mentors identified by Dance Metro DC. The intent for these sessions is to help artists in the evolution of their creative aesthetic. The sessions to be included as part of this program are:

  • Fundraising: build your network to leverage your grant for additional support
  • Budgeting and Finance: develop a realistic project budget
  • Writing About Your Work: describe your creative process and artistic vision
  • Marketing: develop a publicity strategy for your work
  • Peer/Mentor Feedback: receive critical feedback from peers, invited guests and mentors (there will be 3 Peer/Mentor Feedback sessions)

EFM: We all know the crucial need for programs like this. How did these grants actually go from being just an identified need to a reality?

Photo of Christopher K. Morgan & Artists by Brianne Bland

Photo of Christopher K. Morgan & Artists by Brianne Bland

SK: There was a public dialogue among the dance community in 2005 or 2006, where a member of the performing arts community stood up and said that commissions are no longer needed in the dance community and that there are better ways of forwarding the field of dance. However, no alternative suggestions were made by this individual. I deeply disagreed, but was not in a position to refute this individual, (who is no longer a part of the DC area community). But I have carried that conversation, and my response to it over the past decade (or so), and was thrilled that the board of directors of Dance Metro DC shared my belief in the commissioning process and putting resources directly into the hands of artists.

These initiatives aim to fill identified needs within our community. Those needs being direct access to funds, development of business skills necessary to produce one’s creative work, and access to appropriate rehearsal space for dancers. There are only two other commissions in the DC area for dance artists: The Kennedy Center’s Local Dance Commission and Dance Place’s New Releases Commission. It is Dance Metro DC’s hope that our Choreographers’ Commission contributes to a climate growing of support for dance in the DC area - contrary to the existing reality of shrinking funding pools. What makes Dance Metro DC’s commission program unique, I believe, is the professional development component. These workshop sessions directly address a deficiency of business skills and opportunities for creative development for dance artists. It is Dance Metro DC’s hope that these professional development sessions will help to bridge a gap for dance artists between surviving and thriving.

Choreography by Kathy Gordon. Photo by Igor Dmitry

Choreography by Kathy Gordon. Photo by Igor Dmitry

EFM: You are not only the Director of DMDC, but a working dance artists as well. So this much be really meaningful on all levels and from all perspectives for you.

SC: Absolutely. As a practicing dance artist, I find that thoughtful, critical feedback, and creative dialogue are essential to the development of dance work and ultimately, an essential element in pushing the field of dance forward. The professional development component of the commission program includes three peer/mentor/invited guest feedback sessions. This idea is borrowed from the Kennedy Center’s Local Dance Commission program. As a past recipient of the LDCP, I found that the element of feedback in the midst of a commissioned creative process was very meaningful as it helped to provide perspective in terms of where the work lives in the greater context of the field of dance. It is my hope that this aspect of the commission program provides the same kind of benefit to the artists. 

I was also fortunate to be part of the team at Dance Place that established the New Releases Commission. Thanks to Carla Perlo and Deborah Riley, the Co-Directors at Dance Place (where I worked as grants manager from 2003-2012), I was able to see first hand how even a small commission (Dance Place’s New Releases Commission is a $1000 award) can have significant effect on the creative capacity of an artist. 

Choreography by Eleni Grove and Matina Phillips. Photo by Michael Avilez

Choreography by Eleni Grove and Matina Phillips. Photo by Michael Avilez

EFM: That is absolutely true. I think the most action happens at the grassroots level, which I think DMDC is now really tapping into. The organization seems to be sort of re-positioning themselves, and taking new approaches to more directly serve the dance community in the District. What is the impetus for this?

SC: When I became director of Dance Metro DC in January 2013, I was supported by an amazing group of individuals and community leaders that made up the board of directors at that time. They were all wonderful, forward-thinking and committed individuals, many of whom were running their own organizations in the dance community and still made time and, most importantly, energy to serve the field of dance in our region. However, it became apparent that the organization could not continue to serve our dance community indefinitely in its current state. Dance Metro DC could not simply become just another 501(c)(3) that drew resources from the community. Rather, the need was to evolve into a different model, with an emphasis on active and immediate ongoing participation, community building and identifying what the best course of action could be for an organization in order to position itself to best meet the needs of its community. Thus, the responsibilities of board members were elevated and higher demands (in terms of time and energy) were required of the board. After a brief time of transition towards the second half of 2013, Dance Metro DC now has 14 board members, all but three (including myself) are new as of 2014. Building on momentum that the previous board had established, this new board pushed new initiatives, programming ideas and funding support. 

DanceEthos. Photo by Jackie Garcia.

DanceEthos. Photo by Jackie Garcia.

EFM: Right. So these new programs are a result of that.

SC: Exactly. This new board of directors bring a fresh perspective to how Dance Metro DC can operate and exist in support of the field of dance in our region. The new commission program and rehearsal space subsidy lottery are the results of several months of community research, identifying of successful support models and the blood, sweat and tears of an all volunteer board who is committed to finding new ways to support dance artists and push the field of dance forward in our region. 

EFM: What else do you want to add, Stephen?

SC: I really want to emphasis that the Choreographers’ Commission Grant and the Rehearsal Space Subsidy Lottery are created for, by and about the DC area dance community. Artists at every stage of development are encouraged to apply to these programs. However, all applicants must be members of Dance Metro DC. If you’re not yet a member, no problem! You can join anytime via the Dance Metro DC website - annual membership fees range from $20-$500, so there are levels and benefits for everyone. 

I also want to really encourage members of the dance community to consider being at the decision-making table and apply to serve on the board of directors of Dance Metro DC. We have an amazing group of community leaders on the board now who are committed to strengthening our dance community, and there is always room for more voices at the table - so long as you can commit to the schedule of monthly board meetings and actively participate with ongoing committees… that is where the action really happens! 

P.S. Deadlines are November 15th so don't delay!