Dance Project’s Letter to Santa

December 15, 2014 § Leave a comment


Dear Santa,
We’ve had a great year at Dance Project and we definitely think we deserve to be on your nice list this year! We raised over $10,000 in July with the help of donors and were able to receive a matching $10,000 from another generous donor to help put us back on solid footing!


We selected 5 amazing artists for NCDF’s 24th annual touring season.

Photo of Leah Wilks by Chris Walt

Photo of Leah Wilks by Chris Walt


Our fall semester is almost done–we had 7 amazing master classes and 2 performance opportunities for our youth and adult companies.

Lauren Joyner teaching Photo by Lisa Finn Thompson

Lauren Joyner teaching
Photo by Lisa Finn Thompson


The Van Dyke Dance Group performed in Greensboro and then toured Vermont to great reviews.

Photo by Michelle Kelly

Photo by Michelle Kelly


Don’t you think we deserve to be on the nice list? We do! Here’s a few things we’ve been dying for this Holiday season:

-Great new submissions for our 25th anniversary season of NCDF
-A working printer for Program Director Anne Morris; even though it is fun to go visit the School office every once in a while
-Exciting master class teachers for the new Spring series
-Lots of new dancers in class and a copy of Misty Copeland’s book, Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina for Ms. M (Assistant School Director Milanda McGinnis)
-Increased arts funding in the local, state, and national legislature
-Adults to register for our newest class, Ballet For the Absolute Beginner, taught by Anne Morris
-New work by the Van Dyke Dance Group
-School Director Lauren Joyner wants t-shirts for our performance companies, new registration software, and a new sound system for studio 305
-More generous supporters
-New costumes in the costume closet and a costume elf to help us keep them organized
-Artistic Director Jan Van Dyke wants more opportunities for staff expansion and better compensation for all their hard work!
-Another successful year cultivating the field of modern dance in North Carolina!


Oh, and a pony, please.

Thanks, Santa!


Festival FAQ

December 8, 2014 § Leave a comment


Check out this post from June to find out about how we choose the dances each season and more!!

Originally posted on Follow the Festival:

NCDFSo, you’ve heard of the NC Dance Festival, and maybe you’ve even seen a performance or two. But how much do you know about this event, heading into its 24th season, and its parent organization, Dance Project? Here are some of the common questions we get about the NC Dance Festival–click on each question to jump to the answer. Test your own knowledge below!

Frequently Asked Questions about the NC Dance Festival

How long have you been around?

How do you pick the dances?

Do you only feature modern dance?

Why don’t you choose a different theme for each year?

Aren’t you based in Greensboro? How do you produce shows across the state?

Are all the choreographers and performers professional dancers?

Where does your funding come from?

Do you run any outreach programs? Can I take class with these artists?

How do I know when Festival activities are coming up near…

View original 1,212 more words

Looking back and dancing forward into 2015!

December 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

December is a great time to look back on the accomplishments of the past year and make plans for the next. At the Dance Project, the NC Dance Festival’s parent organization, we are doing just that. From professional performances in formal and informal settings, to inspiring outreach classes and workshops, from high-quality classes for children, teens, and adults to internships for college students; Dance Project is hard at work in–and for–the Greensboro and North Carolina community. Today, we are sharing an end-of-year letter written by our Artistic Director, Jan Van Dyke. As she says, community organizations like ours need broad support to function and continue serving the community; we hope you will join us in planning for the future of dance in NC by supporting us today. Thanks for all the support you give already!


Dear Dance Lover,

As we approach the end of 2014, I am writing to ask you to consider a gift to the Dance Project, the not-for-profit organization I brought to Greensboro in 1989.   At the Dance Project, we share the mission of cultivating modern dance in North Carolina, nurturing a community of artists, audiences, and students by providing opportunities for training, performance, collaboration, and employment. We have expanded our vision steadily, and now we manage the Van Dyke Dance Group, the School at City Arts, and the NC Dance Festival. We are always busy, reaching out into the community to perform and teach. I hope you are as happy and satisfied with our work over the past year as I am.

This time around, my year includes something special, a substantial gift to ArtsGreensboro to repurpose Room 100 in the Greensboro Cultural Arts Center into a 400+ seat performance space—a really satisfying endeavor. Several years ago, I was left a large sum of money.   I have since struggled to find a meaningful way to spend it that would both honor the legacy of my family, and further my own goals of building a strong and resourceful dance community in this area. It has long been a frustration to operate in a community with no small venue appropriate to local or touring performing artists. Drawing an audience of 250 to a theater meant to seat 900 is not a pleasant or exciting experience for either viewers or performers. Additionally, dance often has special needs in lighting, flooring, and sightlines, which are not always obtainable in makeshift spaces. I noted the energy and money being spent to build up Greensboro’s downtown area, and at the same time, I knew how few alums from the Dance Department at UNCG stay in the area to build their own careers. It seemed a logical next step to conceive of a downtown performance venue, one that might serve as a catalyst in a larger public-private partnership, working with the city to maximize usage of space in the Cultural Arts Center to create a long-needed facility. I am particularly fortunate to have had a big idea like this while also having the means to make it happen. This opportunity has enabled me to fulfill a personal dream while benefitting the entire community.

The new theater will be just one part of a downtown community that is busily defining itself as an active, creative city. Now it is time to redouble support for the Dance Project, so that we can tap into this surge of artistic energy, and continue to be a vital part of this growing community. In particular, we have ambitious plans for the upcoming 25th anniversary season of the NC Dance Festival in Greensboro, with multiple concerts and classes, celebrating years of helping to build the statewide dance community. In addition to an annual concert season and downtown classes taught by a college educated staff, we offer scholarships, free performances, mini-concerts in the schools, and master classes and free workshops throughout the area, all because we love sharing what we do. These projects all require funding to expand on the past 25 years as we go forward with our mission of engaging the community while developing artists and employing dancers.

We are a community organization, needing broad support to function and best serve this community. Thank you very much for considering support of our work, and perhaps, for becoming involved. I would love hearing from you. Please share your ideas with me at or by phone at 336 370 4819. You are the reason we strive to be the best we can be, and we are always looking for new ways to connect.

Sincerely,  Jan Van Dyke


Dance Local.

Festival Series: Jacob’s Pillow Dance (1931-Present)

December 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Jacob’s Pillow is the oldest internationally acclaimed summer dance festival in the United States. Its mission is “to support dance creation, presentation, education, and preservation; and to engage and deepen public appreciation and support for dance.”

The festival is located on a farm that was purchased in 1931 by Ted Shawn to be used as a dance retreat with his wife Ruth St. Denis and their highly regarded Denishawn Company. The farm was bought by British ballet stars Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin in 1942, and was made into a National Historic Landmark in 2003.

The Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the country's oldest theater for dance. (Photograph by Nancy Tutko; from the archives of Jacob's Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts.)

The Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the country’s oldest theater for dance. (Photograph by Nancy Tutko; from the archives of Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts.)

Ted Shawn’s goal when he opened Jacob’s Pillow was to teach a myriad of dance forms without hierarchical valuation. Modern dance, ballet, jazz, flamenco, tap, Bharata Natyam, hip-hop, and Butoh dance have all been taught and performed at Jacob’s Pillow over past summers.

A large part of the festival is the School at Jacob’s Pillow. When it began, it was Shawn’s all male dance company. He hoped to take away some of the stigma of male dancers that Americans held. In 1933, he opened the doors for 40 male students. In 1938, the school officially accepted female students as well.

Ted Shawn and Men Dancers in 1936, photo credit Richard Merrill

Ted Shawn and Men Dancers in 1936, photo credit Richard Merrill

In 1942, when the farm was bought by Markova and Dolin, the Pillow began to change. Due to the difficulty Shawn was having running the festival on his own, it acquired a board of directors and became a non-profit organization. That year the Ted Shawn Theatre was built, the first stage in America that was solely dedicated to dance. The festival included instruction and performances in “American Folk Dance,” “Dance of the Orient and Their Adaptations,” Contemporary European Ballet,”, and “Primitive Dance and its Adaptations.” The programming was purposeful–Shawn hoped to show audiences how dance reflected cultures and societies as well as not assigning importance to one type over another.

Students in class at the School at Jacob's Pillow

Students in class at the School at Jacob’s Pillow

Students in 1942 experienced a summer program that sought to create citizens of the world through diversified educational experiences. Pillow students studied numerous dance forms, attended lectures before seeing artists, had works choreographed on them by eminent artists, as well as manual labor like, “building, chopping wood and gardening”. The aim was for dance to become part of a community lifestyle, and not just a vocation.

Ted Shawn doing manual labor at Jacob's Pillow in 1931. Photo uncredited

Ted Shawn doing manual labor at Jacob’s Pillow in 1931. Photo uncredited

Particulary after the founding of the National Endowment of the Arts in 1965, the number of modern and ballet companies in America grew exponentially and a number of these companies spent time at Jacob’s Pillow. Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor Dance Companies, Pilobolus Dance Theatre, Pear Land & Dance Company, and Minnesota Dance Theatre are among the artists who have performed at the Ted Shawn Theatre over the years.

The festival has also been pioneering in educational outreach. Through their Pillow Talks, a lecture series started in the late 1950s, the festival cultivated an appreciation of dance among the community. Audience members could learn about dance notation, ballet innovators, and the extensive careers of dancers such as Ruth St. Denis and Matteo for an admission fee of $1.50. The Pillow has also offered community dance classes for all levels, often taught by the visiting artists.

Crystal Pite participating in a post-show lecture. Photo credit: Christopher Duggan

Crystal Pite participating in a post-show lecture. Photo credit: Christopher Duggan

Ted Shawn was able to remain the artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival until his death in 1972. There have been many other artistic directors after him that have kept the organization a vital part of the dance world. Each year, Jacob’s Pillow has about 60 performances, 20 talks, 100 students, and more than 80,000 audience members all in about 70 days.  It has become a living monument in the history of dance in America, but also in American history itself.

A performance at Jacob's Pillow in 2010. Photo credit: Kristi Pitsch

A performance at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010. Photo credit: Kristi Pitsch

NCDF in Greensboro: Ask the Choreographers

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

This year at our Greensboro concert, we gave audience members the chance to write down questions they had for the choreographers. We got some amazing questions from audience members of all ages and our choreographers rose to the challenge and gave some great and thought provoking answers! Ever wonder what goes into choreographing a song, how choreographers choose music, or even their workout routine? Now’s your chance!

I understand that choreography goes beyond dance…but what part does dance play in choreography?

Headshot-3Diego Carrasco Schoch (DCS): As a choreographer it’s important to understand that I have a specific way of moving/dancing and therefore my choreography is going to reflect those habits, tendencies, biases, preferences, etc. In order to expand my vocabulary and get away from those tendencies, I will often incorporate movement generated by the cast through improvisational structures, asking the dancers to talk about the movement material I have created, and allowing them to make adjustments and changes based on the intent of the phrase and the piece overall.

I think also that the question is asking about the definition of choreography in that choreography is not just movement/dance but an arrangement of images in time and space. The placement of the individual musicians in an orchestra and the entrance of the conductor could be considered choreography or the way drivers negotiate a four-way intersection could be choreography.  Dance/movement affects how these images are perceived and interpreted.

Lastly, A Place Apart was created on bodies other than my own, using some improvisational structures and exercises. Because of this the piece was very unfamiliar to my own body when I had to learn it in order to perform. I had to discover how to inhabit the movements in a way that felt natural to me, so the choreography changed simply because the steps look different on my body due to the differences inherent in it.

How difficult is it to create a performance that the general audience can understand?

DCS: First, it is very difficult because modern contemporary dance generally utilizes abstractions and imagery, often in juxtaposition, without the aid of text, explanation, or direct associations. We can think about those images as symbols or signs. As an example, some signs are very easy to read and pretty universal such as smiley faces made with a circle, two dots and a curved line inside it (emoticons work this way). However the more abstract a sign, the more each audience member is able to interpret or translate those signs/images in their own way based on their cultural background, education, and experiences. This is why a joke told in English may not work in Spanish or Arabic. The cultural touchstones and associations are not the same.

A Place Apart. Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

A Place Apart. Photo credit: Rosalie O’Connor

Sometimes it is not a choreographer’s intent or first priority to “be understood”, but instead wanting or allowing the audience to interpret the dance in their own way. Many people feel intimidated when confronting modern dance but they shouldn’t be. The place to begin is to examine one’s visceral reactions to the work.

Lastly, George Balanchine basically said it is impossible to define complicated familial relationships such as step mothers or cousins purely through dance. For universal understanding, it is best to stick with simple, universal themes.

What is the audience response most desired by you?

Kristen Jeppsen Groves 2Kristen Jeppsen Groves: I want people to recognize what dance can communicate. I really hope the audience members leave my pieces saying, “I got that, I understood that.”… I hope most of all there will be a sense of community that the audience can experience with us. That everyone leaves and they start to get a sense of what true community should be like and how we should work with one another.

I hope that everybody in the audience thinks about who they are and to recognize that sometimes we can let go of the everyday performances that we put on for people. And that we are enough as we are.

As We Are. Photo credit: Chris Walt

As We Are. Photo credit: Chris Walt

How did you find the beautiful music accompanying your choreography? (asked by a student of the Dance Project: School at City Arts)

Gaspard head shot by Robin GallantGaspard Louis: For most of my works the choreography and the music are usually created together. I have been fortunate so far to be able to collaborate with local musicians. Sometimes they would come in the studio to play as we were improvising, other times, I would listen to a piece of music and ask them to compose something similar.

DCS: I am always listening to music and I expose myself to a lot of different music. When I hear something I particularly enjoy I make a note of it and kind of put it in a catalogue that exists in the back of my brain. When I start a new project I’ll go through a lot of music to see what might work. Sometimes when I’ve begun rehearsals I haven’t yet picked the music. Other times I can’t find anything and will see if I can I get an original score composed.

Rubix. Photo credit: Warren Scott

Rubix. Photo credit: Warren Scott

What inspired you to create “Mess”?

Leah Wilks (LW): I don’t know…I’m curious about what you do when you can’t make sense of things? I like Leah Headbang-2to make sense of everything. I think a lot of artists like to make sense of things. It’s kind of why we do art, right? We take these really abstract emotions and we make meaning out of them. And for me, what this piece emerged as is what happens when you’re in those situations where you can’t make meaning? What happens when you can’t do that and how do you still move?

How long do you prefer to work on a new creation and when do you know its ready to show?

DCS: My basic equation is as follows: if a piece is 10 minutes long, I need at least 20 hours of studio rehearsal time. Basically I double the number of minutes a piece is and then call that number hours. This does not include all of the extra time spent researching and thinking about the piece, the time going over the day’s videos or notes, the production meetings, or the production rehearsals. Sometimes the gestation or preparation time for a piece can be months or years before one actually gathers a cast and steps into the studio.

I am always thinking I could have used another two weeks on a piece before it is “finished” and premiers in a theatre to audiences. I have also found that when given the chance to re-stage a piece, I re-work or tinker with it, which could imply that it was not “finished” when I first did it. 

In general, a piece is finished when it fulfills my expectations and I have addressed or completed all of the elements I was interested in or working on. In the end, I look to make the work coherent from beginning to end, that the vocabulary is consistent and meshes well, and I have edited out anything I feel is peripheral or unnecessary to the understanding of the piece.

How do your ideas evolve?

LW: I start with questions. I’m never interested in answering things for people, I don’t really want to tell a story, I don’t want to do things linearly. I like creating worlds and environments that start from a question that allows people to have their own experience inside of that. So I guess that’s sort of my choreographic device.

Mess photo by  Tim Walter-0226

Mess. Photo credit: Tim Walter

DCS: In very strange ways sometimes! I have begun a project thinking it was about one thing and as I got further into the process I realized it was about something else. Most of my work begins with a kinetic idea. As the phrases and images evolve, I try to notice and reflect on how the dancers inhabit the movement and relate to each. These cues and elements begin to shape into something that has meaning for me. Once I can see a theme or direction I begin to shape the work toward that idea.

What is your exercise routine? Yoga?

DCS: I lift weights, swim laps, and, yes, practice yoga. These days, I very rarely take a dance technique class.

How did you do those dance moves? (asked by an audience member under the age of 10)

DCS: A lot of practice!

Thanks so much to our attentive audience in Greensboro for asking such thought provoking questions, and another thank you to our choreographers for taking the time to answer these questions in such depth.

Still hoping to catch these choreographers in action? Check our schedule to see how you see us on our last stop in January!

Dance Local.

The Festival Series: American Dance Festival (1948-Present)

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last week we talked about the Bennington School of Dance. Today we’re talking about the American Dance Festival, a festival that has a history of collaboration with the NC Dance Festival and is a major force in Modern Dance here in North Carolina and nationwide.

Started in 1948 at Connecticut College and moved to Duke University in 1978, American Dance Festival has its roots at the Bennington School of Dance. After Bennington ceased to exist in 1942, one of the “Big Four”, Hanya Holm, in addition to Martha Hill, helped to start what at that time was referred to as New York University-Connecticut College School Of Dance/American Dance Festival. It had similar goals to Bennington: training dancers and providing space for modern dance to flourish.

Hanya Holm and man. Taken from ADF's archives on Facebook

Hanya Holm and Louis Horst some time between 1934-1937. Photo credit Barbara Morgan

The New York University-Connecticut College School of Dance/American Dance Festival was originally two separate parts. The first 5 weeks were dedicated to training and teaching. Both new and established artists came with their companies and taught students their techniques and repertory. The last week was dedicated solely to showcasing the artists’ work. In 1969, the name was changed to the American Dance Festival; this change marked a full integration of education and performance.

Member of Límón's company working with students

Member of Límón’s company working with students. Photo from ADF’s archives.

Many artists and their companies spent their summers in residency at ADF including Paul Taylor, Pilobolus, Martha Graham, José Limón (who spent 10+ years in residency!) and cited it as an influential time in their careers as choreographers.

ADF has grown immensely since its founding. Today over 400 students can be found each summer studying and performing at Duke University. The curriculum has grown to include all major dance techniques, dance medicine, body therapies, repertory, and choreography. There are teaching and performing workshops offered each year as well. Over 640 premieres, 340 commissions, and 50 reconstructions of classic works have occurred throughout the history of the Festival.

Since 1987 ADF has also had a humanities division which has released publications about philosophy, aesthetics, and cultures of modern dance. This division’s goals include integrating dance into the national cultural history of America. One of the largest projects completed was in 1987 when a publication called “Black Tradition in American Modern Dance” made it possible for over 20 works to be reconstructed and many others to be Labanotated.


Teresa Sneed, ADF student from 1985. Photo by Kevin Keister

In 2012, ADF opened the Samuel H. Scripps studio which was the first time the Festival offered full time, year round training at one facility. American Dance Festival continues to thrive today and is becoming a fully integrated part of the culture in Durham, North Carolina.

ADD from 2012

ADF from 2012

UP NEXT: Jacob’s Pillow. Tune in next week to learn more!

The Festival Series: Bennington School of Dance (1934-1942)

November 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the upcoming weeks we’ll be exploring dance festivals all throughout the United States. These are places that have historically, and for some, continue to cultivate the field of modern dance. If it wasn’t for the influence of some of these festivals, the North Carolina Dance Festival wouldn’t be what it was today. Therefore, we wanted to take the time out and recognize these important cornerstones for modern dance artists everywhere!

Bennington School of Dance (1934-1942) began in 1934 at Bennington College, a small liberal arts college for women in Vermont. Bennington’s influence on the fledgling art of modern dance in America was huge—by having it under the umbrella of an academic institution, it provided legitimacy to modern dance and became a training ground, laboratory, and production center for dance artists. The school was founded by Martha Hill, a dance professor, and Mary Josephine Shelly, a physical education teacher at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. Martha Hill taught her students (mainly dance teachers at the beginning) how to teach dance technique and composition by encouraging them to dance and compose. She believed in “direct contact with the professional artist” (Kriegsman).



The program ran for 6 weeks and focused on honing technique and teaching composition. Classes included ballet, tap, folk dance, choreography, stage design, music for dance, dance history, criticism, and notation. While the students were encouraged to be creative, they were discouraged from vague forms of self expression disguised as art. Rigor, discipline, and form were all important prerequisites for dance composition at Bennington.

from University of Denver Libraries

from University of Denver Libraries

The Big Four, or the core faculty members of Bennington, were Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Hanya Holm. They came to Bennington each summer with their companies, used the members as teaching aids, and created new works on them. Hill also brought in outside performers—Bennington sponsored the world debut of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan in 1936 as well as premiering ballets by Eugene Loring, Lew Christensen, and William Dollar.

Bennington trained over 1,000 students over the eight summers it was open. These students became future leaders in modern dance technique and choreographer. Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin, Erick Hawkins, José Limón, and Alwin Nikolais were just a few of the greats that got their beginnings at Bennington.

Jose Limon on Bennington College Commons lawn with Doris Humphrey group. From Bennington College Libraries

Jose Limon on Bennington College Commons lawn with Doris Humphrey group. From Bennington College Libraries

Bennington was important in the history of Modern dance. It helped to win legitimacy to the art form as an American Art and made it seem appropriate for study in higher education. Critics began writing about the dance form more seriously, and artists were nurtured and provided with a place to work and experiment. Bennington made it possible for future training grounds for dance artists in America, and made colleges more likely to partner with dancers and choreographers. Even after the project officially ended in 1942, its legacy still lived on. The school became the American Dance Festival and it moved to Connecticut College in 1948 due to the diligence of Martha Hill and the work of other founding members.



 UP NEXT: American Dance Festival. Keep following us here on the blog to learn more!


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