When it comes to RDT, our staff and dancers have so much to be thankful for! We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and wish you joyous holiday season! Below are some of the many things we are thankful for…
Pilar… I’m thankful for all the opportunities RDT offers to think outside the box. To do something you’ve done before but different. Always changing, always growing, even when it’s a repeat.
Lauren… I am thankful for my supportive family and friends, my health, and the leadership within RDT that has made it possible for me to do what I love every day.
David… They call theater the great “Imaginary Invalid,” a fragile enterprise that for whatever reason continues anyway, year-after-decade-after-century. Concert dance is of course an imaginary invalid as well. That Repertory Dance Theatre has maintained for 50 years would suggest that we are not quite as fragile as we sometimes might seem, especially to those behind the scenes. I would agree. And the big reason why is our stakeholders, which is what I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving. This group of patrons, advocates, students, teachers, donors (both cash and in-kind)–at every level from $1 to $30,000–are a testament to not only the loyalty of the RDT family, but the character of that family.
Ricklen… I am grateful for RDT’s unwavering commitment to the highest artistic ideals and for its significant focus on sharing the joy of movement in the schools and in the community, offering people of all ages an experience that, in its immediacy and intimacy, is both thrilling and profound.
Nick… I am grateful for the many things RDT has taught me and continues to teach me. I am grateful for the opportunity to work for an organization that I believe in, that I support, and with people who make me a better person each day we are together.
Lynne: I am grateful for all the wonderful and inspiring students I teach everyday in RDT’s AIE Outreach Program.
Jaclyn: I am very grateful to have a job dancing that feels more like a calling. I feel so lucky to be challenged every day and excited about what I can share through the art form! I also appreciate the family nature that RDT is in my life. When you create something special together, it makes a lasting bond that manifests so magically on stage. Much thanks to RDT for making all of my dreams possible!
Efren Corado Garcia: I am grateful to live in Salt Lake City for continuing to recognize the importance of Arts and Culture, allowing RDT to serve as it’s ambassador and as one of the city’s precious jewels. Also, I am grateful to RDT for giving me the opportunity to be a part of its legacy.
Dan: I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a family, a family that encourages me to push myself, find an artistic voice, and give back to a beautiful artistic community through the art of dance.
Lacie: I am thankful for the challenges RDT provides that stretch and strengthen both my mind and body through the art of Dance.
Stephanie: I am grateful to be a part of the RDT team because even though I am not a performer, art is a part of my daily life. I love being able to share the work of this Company and I’m proud to be a part of it. When I grew up dancing I never thought I would get to work in the field, but I’m so grateful that now dance is a part of my everyday life.
Justin: Every year Thanksgiving reminds me of how blessed I am to be living out my dream and how RDT goes beyond in making that possible. Being able to represent dance in such a historical way with the rep we do takes my breathe away every season. I am always reminded that dance isn’t just performing but about educating the future on how it must be preserved and it’a rich history. Being apart of RDT gives me a purpose bigger than myself and how can’t I be thankful for that?
I’m a culture worker twice. I’m both an artist myself, and I’m a fundraiser for the arts. As a novelist and editor of creative writing, I pursue my own imaginative and expressive impulses through my craft, and with my vision of what I think literature has done and can continue to do to broaden and enrich the human enterprise. But as a fundraiser for Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT), those pursuits are not so much “deep-sixed” as they are suddenly in vivid conversation with, for want of a better word, the non-cultural sector. Among others, this sector includes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as well as the business world. Tragically, it is also starting to include public education … but more on that later.
I want to talk here about the intersection between the arts / humanities and business. For cultural organizations like RDT, a mid-sized performing arts group with an annual budget of $800,000, the Great Recession was an opportunity for arts administrators like me to turn over the stones in the rock garden of corporate America, and to learn to speak the language of business. After all, many arts groups (10,000 or one-tenth of the nation’s organizations by one 2009 count) not only took it in the teeth, but would shutter their doors forever. With unemployment in the United States peaking at 10 percent, we needed the validation of the moneyed crowd. We needed their endorsement. Oh yeah … and we needed their cash sponsorship.
In short we needed them to see us. The business sector, more often elusive than not to artist-types like me, also includes government agencies which can be quick to contract their revenue streams to a symphony, or a gallery, a ballet or a book award–to a mere drizzle. Or they can even attempt to seal that funding off entirely the moment the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummets and someone starts screaming about economic priorities. Needless to say, the priorities of economics, like those of politics, are in the eye of the beholder … or the screamer in this case. What is the economic priority of one is clearly not that of another.
But corporate America, which accounts for just 5% of charitable giving of every kind (human services, culture, etc.) in the United States, contracts even more quickly than tax-based agencies.
I mention this because RDT, where I’m the Director of Development (aka, fundraiser), has made an intrepid effort of late to reach out to businesses not just because we need increased sponsorship for our programs through their offices of corporate responsibility. We have also approached them because, as an arts organization, we have to make ourselves part of the economic web just to be seen. We have to get on their radar. They have to see us on their terms, not ours.
For this reason, small as we are, RDT makes enormous efforts to network with organizations such as the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah). RDT carries a membership in both organizations, fortunately, through the affordable contract of ticket trade for membership dues. These organizations are social sites where RDT gets to preach to someone other than “the choir.” They are sites where we are challenged to tell our story in ways that insert us into the fabric of society as seen through the eyes of economic development.
This is not an easy task. Business folks are folks first: real people with real limits on their time, resources and attention. Like “us,” they get locked into their own boxes, and into their own lexicon: if they don’t have a word for something, it doesn’t exist to them. For example, RDT not only spends a lot of its time with defining “repertory” and “choreography” at these networking events, we have the challenge of explaining why any of it matters. The conversation can sometimes go like this:
“Dance? My daughter dances. Costs me a fortune to send her through that school every year.”
“Really? Does she study ballet or modern?” He looks at you blankly. [Wrong turn. Go back…]
Take Two: “We do what’s called concert dance.”
“Concerts? Like music?”
“We’re professional dancers who perform shows in a theater.”
[More blank stares. But you’ve got a hook. Keep going…]
“We tell America’s story on stage.”
“What kind of stories?”
“Stories about you and your family … ”
“No kidding?” [Takes a sip of his beer.]
“…and of the whole human family. How old is your daughter?”
“She’s probably seen RDT in her school. We serve 30,000 Utah school kids every year with dance programs.”
“She’s crazy about it. Always wearing that tutu.”
[Empathetic laughter]. Yep. That’s us. [Even though we’re not the ballet, we’ll take credit for a tutu.] We’re the ones that give meaning to her life in school. We get her to ask the question ‘why?’ … ”
… so that she connects what she does in the classroom and who she is in her family to how she sees herself. Who she becomes.”
“Yep. That’s what we do. It is cool!”
“So, you work with kids.” [He’s looking around the room for his next networking opportunity. You need to go in to the wind-up.]
“And big kids too. Like you and me, in the theater. Art asks the question, [You gesture around the room] ‘Why are we doing all of this?’ ‘Why and how does it really matter?'”
“Ah, sort of like church?”
“Sort of. But you get Sundays off.”
Cheeky though the conversation above might sound, I hope it illustrates the point I’m trying to make which is that the arts and humanities aren’t just embroidery to something called “the things that matter” (i.e., making and spending money). The arts are part of the warp and woof of the tapestry of life. They temper everything, and inform everything, and they faciliate thought and action. More than a tapestry, they are part of the web of life that connects everything to everything: science to faith, justice to law, education to the soul, commerce to community. When one corner of the web of human living moves, it moves everything. Art in general personifies how that happens, and dance in particular embodies it–literally.
That’s part of the story of RDT as well. Not just our concert series, our popular Dance Center on Broadway, or our school outreach. And that’s the story we have to tell in some shape or form to the broader population that sometimes seems fixated on everything but arts and culture. They need to know that our work matters to the community which, when healthy, and fully-dimensional, actually helps provide a real space for sustained economic development. So, you see, we are brought full circle, which arguably is the modus operandi of art, to circle back, to elevate the questions, not the answers.
In another post, I would like to blog on how we talk about our art form and our programming to others who do not speak the language of culture. The moniker “Creatives Industry” is emerging to suggest the role that creativity plays in economic development. The term, two words from opposite sides of the universe improbably jammed together, broadens the tent of what is creative while honoring the gold standard of creativity: the fine arts and humanities. To be useful, the term has to be defined. Americans for the Arts has a narrower version than others, but as a story-teller, you and your cultural organization, can use the term fluidly (and liberally) to inspire others to draw the arts and cultural sector into the visible web of what we call “the economy.”
There is a place for culture in America. Even an honored place. But first we have to learn the language of the population we are trying to reach. What’s the good news? They already want what we are offering. The market is there.
A fiction writer and essayist by trade, David Pace is the Director of Development at Repertory Dance Theatre. You can visit his personal website at www.davidgpace.com
This simple prompt is a wonderful beginning to an exercise that I learned at a Creative Aging workshop sponsored by engAGE Utah that helped artists learn how to build and implement creative artistic classes for seniors.
Creative Aging is a blossoming field that has grown thanks to the serious and concerted efforts of several leaders like Dr. Gene Cohen, Susan Perlstein, and Stuart Kandell. Over the past several decades, these leaders, and others, have worked to change the culture that surrounds aging adults and have helped to build an understanding that everyone wants to continue learning throughout their lifetime.
It’s odd to think that there was a time when people didn’t realize that learning through life – not just during your younger years – is essential to being a happy and healthy person. Artists have always known that the arts and creative thinking are vital to finding enjoyment and passion at any stage of life, but we are only now beginning to create programs that address the needs of life-long learners, especially for those aged 65+.
When it comes to creative aging and art classes for seniors, it’s important to remember that each adult chooses to be there with you. As such, they want to feel that they are making social connections with others as well as learning and experiencing something new. Creative arts classes give the teacher and students the opportunity to share stories about their lives and experiences, make new connections with others, and learn something new about art and the artistic process.
Repertory Dance Theatre started a pilot program with Sagewood at Daybreak, a senior living center in South Jordan, in May. Since then, a few of our dancers and staff have been heading out to Daybreak once a week to work with residents from different units at the center, including memory care.
Whether we stay seated in a chair or get up and walk around and move through space, these classes offer the residents of Sagewood an opportunity to move, to learn some new, and to build connections with those who live around them. It also offers the teacher an endless amount of inspiration and joy.
You can always sense the hesitation when the class starts. People who don’t move very often are wary of being asked to do something they won’t be able to do. But after a few assurances and words of encouragement even the residents who don’t move very often start to use their arms and hands in new ways. Smiles abound as you talk and play different styles of music. Some just sit and watch, tapping their toes to the beat. After almost every class, it’s hard not to leave feeling inspired.
I had the joy of working with a group of about 10 seniors this past week. One of the exercises we did was “My Hands… .” It’s a simple prompt but it takes on such deep and touching meaning when you are working with people who have lived so much.
We started by looking at our hands. Thinking about all that they have done, accomplished, created. I asked those who were comfortable to finish that sentence.
“My hands played the piano …”
“My hands held my babies …”
“My hands clapped for the children …”
“My hands wiped away the tears …”
Such touching and simple statements were then paired with movements. We did everything sitting down so no one would have to worry about balance or getting too tired. Everyone participated in their own way, mouthing the words or stating them out loud, as we built our poem and gesture dance. The gestures we came up with were simple but meaningful.
As we built the movement poem, the energy in the room changed. We learned something special about each person. We connected on an artistic level that left everyone feeling uplifted and inspired.
Nick Cendese is an Artistic Associate with Repertory Dance Theatre and currently works in the office, the studio, in the schools, and every place in between teaching, coaching, choreographing and spreading his love of modern dance.