You are a hardworking dance professional. You have to juggle training, teaching, working, rehearsal time, family life, and eating properly. And a social life? Squeezed in somewhere in that mix. Any spare moment you have to yourself is precious and used to rest. And I get it. Schedules are tight, and making it as an artist is never easy. Why is it, though, we want people to come to our shows when we make little to no effort seeing others?
You know what I mean, we’ve all experienced it. Days are leading up to a show and ticket sales aren’t where we’d like it to be. We spend hours marketing our work; photos, social media posts, reaching out to news outlets. It’s exhausting, and sometimes it feels like the effort hardly reaps much of a reward...on opening night we peek through the curtain and see plenty of empty seats.
It is, for lack of a better term, a shame.
Hours upon hours of work goes into a show; meticulous thought, careful planning, smart choreography. It’s disheartening when hardly anyone gets to experience it.
Dance is a temporal art form in that time plays a very specific role in how it functions. Unlike a painting or a film, it doesn’t last forever. Even when you perform the same piece several times, it’s never the same. It is truly of the moment. Dance film lasts, but is very different to how live dance works, and each offers a very different experience to the viewer.
In short, seeing it live is the only way to keep the art form alive.
And yet we get lazy, even when we’ve been on the receiving end of empty seats. Being a member of a company makes it easier, but sometimes even then it’s hard to fill a theater. So, again, why don’t we make more of an effort to attend local shows?
Time oftentimes plays a factor, here.There are only so many days in a week, and only so many hours in a day. If you are running around from point A to point B (as we jack-of-all-trades tend to do), we oftentimes can’t make a performance simply because we can’t be in two places at once. Furthermore, it’s not easy to always get off work to make a show...we still have to work to eat!
Because there are only so many days in a week, sometimes companies’ shows tend to overlap and happen on the same day as well. If there are two separate companies having two separate shows on the same day, it thins audiences. Thinner audiences mean more open seats.
As I mentioned before, most working artists have to work several jobs to make ends meet. It’s not easy to work two or three jobs, socialize with friends, check in with family, and go see live shows. “Dancing work hours are around seventeenish at the current moment,” says Danielle Doell, Seattle-based choreographer, dancer, and co-founder of LanDforms Dance, “Not-dancing-working is, actually surprising, only around thirtyish.” And that’s commonplace for professional dancers; I not only work for The Movement Project, but I also have two other part-time jobs as well. Tallied together, it’s easy to rack up fifty plus work weeks. New York dancer Kimberly E. Murry clocks in fifty hours regularly. Energy burns quickly in this profession, and especially because our work requires a lot of physical and mental energy, it’s easy to spend what little time we have to ourselves catching up on everything else...including sleep.
But lack of rest isn’t the only factor.
A lot of individuals who go out to see live dance have a tendency to stick with what they know; fans of one dance company may not always feel inclined to see another, even if the shows are on different dates. Being a fan of a company’s work is great, but it’s always a good thing to branch out and see what else is out there. And I get it, it’s scary. If you are a fan of postmodern work, it may be intimidating to go see classical ballet and vice versa.
Furthermore, many people in the city of Cleveland, most whom are not involved in the arts, tend to assume that Cleveland dance is somehow not as ‘valid’ as dance in other cities. This is most definitely not the case. There are many hardworking professionals with a strong dance education keeping the artform alive and relevant. With over ten dance companies and a plethora of resources (like the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture). Cleveland is a small city, but it’s not a dead city. There is plenty to offer here.
Why Should We Make the Effort?
Because it matters. In a world where less people are taking the time to see any live performances of any kind, we have to fill as many seats as we can, or we will see the concert and experimental dance world diminish. It falls to us as members of the field to keep ourselves relevant, smart, and seen.
Seeing dance live also helps us build and grow as artists. Have you ever left a show feeling inspired? I have. Being able to look at what our colleagues are doing keeps us tethered to reality and to each other. We learn from each other, borrow and glean insight from sharing work, and without being active in the dance world, we will disappear.
Dance can translate stories, experiences, feelings, and shapes. Dance is human. Dance is alive. We need to keep it that way.