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Accounting for Change at Repertory Dance Theater, part 1

Accounting for Change at Repertory Dance Theater, part 1

By Joanna L. Johnston, MBA, CPA
RDT Board Treasurer and UACPA Non-Profit Committee Member

This article was originally published in The Journal Entry, a publication of the Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants. Writes Joanna, “Since this article was published in 2014, I’ve learned so much more about Repertory Dance Theatre and the art form. Consequently, I’ve re-upped for another term as a trustee of RDT’s board. This extended stay at America’s premier repertory dance company has given me added insight into the way America’s arts organizations not only survive change but thrive because of it and how accounting professionals can be a critical part of that success.”

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What is Modern Dance? As a board member for Repertory Dance Theater for over five years, I still have difficulty answering that question. My typical response is “Modern dance is an emotional, free-flowing dance style that needs to be experienced. Please join me at a performance. You won’t be disappointed.”

Modern Dance was born in the early 20th century. Early modern dancers broke away from classical ballet  and other forms of “academic” dance. They focused on “self-expression” and created movement to communicate the energy, the society and sometimes the politics of the 20th century.  Costumes became less restrictive; dancers frequently performed in bare feet and were not afraid to show the effort in creating movement. In the 1930’s, pioneers such as Martha Graham focused on muscular contraction and release, resulting in movements that were sharp, jagged and “fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.” Other choreographers such as Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp are known world-wide for developing their own individual movement languages, styles, and choreographic theories.  Today, modern dance encompasses a wide variety of influences including African-American dance, jazz, ballet, and traditional cultural dances from across the globe. It is now an international art form.

Repertory Dance Theater (RDT) was founded in 1966 through a cooperative effort between the Salt Lake City dance community, the University of Utah, and a major grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Virginia Tanner, a respected educator and director of the Children’s Dance Theater, dreamt of having a professional company of dancers dedicated to the performance, creation and preservation of American modern dance. As a founding member of the company, Linda C. Smith has strived to fulfill that dream, first as a dancer, and now as RDT’s Executive/Artistic Director. As a result of her efforts, RDT, in residence at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City, has become both a museum and contemporary gallery of modern dance.

The “storefront” for many performing arts groups including RDT is public performances. However, there is so much more to the Company than meets the eye. RDT’s community outreach programs include adult dance classes [conducted at RDT’s Dance Center on Broadway], ranging from Flamenco and Jazz to African and Ballet. Summer workshops offer high school and college students opportunities to dance and create with nationally renowned choreographers. Ring Around the Rose is a monthly series of interactive performances targeted toward families to encourage understanding and appreciation for the arts. Through Arts in Education programs sponsored by the Utah State Office of Education, each year RDT dancers visit 25,000 students in elementary schools across the state demonstrating the interaction between art, history, ecology and cultural diversity through dance. Students learn new concepts in problem-solving through movement and are presented with new avenues of awareness that can improve self-confidence and provide opportunities for each student to create and explore. RDT’s extensive collections of dance works enable the dancers to tour the country throughout the year, providing national recognition for the company. Through its performances and outreach, RDT is telling America’s story through dance.

 

Come back for part 2 on Monday to learn more about the unique difficulties and challenges RDT faces each year and the special skills Joanna brings to the board as she helps steer RDT to success.

Joanna L. Johnston, CPA is a Tax Manager at BDO USA, LLP with a passion for non-profit arts organizations. She is the Treasurer for Repertory Dance Theater, Vice-President of Finance for the Utah Wind Symphony, as well as a member of the University of Utah Business Alumni Association Board. She can be reached at jljohnston@bdo.com