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A good cause for a career: meet the dancers behind Dancers Responding to AIDS.

Six weeks after landing her dream job with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Denise Roberts Hurlin tore a ligament in her knee. It was 1989 and she was 27, in the prime of her dance career, watching the company leave for tour while she began physical therapy. During her hiatus, she was forced to consider life without performing. "I began to deliver meals for God's Love We Deliver. I had to bring things into my life that weren't about dance. I had to heal," Hurlin explains. "In doing so, I realized that there are many ways I am valued as a human being other than as the dancer I am perceived to be. It gave me a sense of life after performance."

Although Hurlin eventually recuperated and danced for Paul Taylor until 1995, she never lost her new perspective. "In hindsight, I was lucky to have the injury, for it gave me time to think about what I'd do after dancing. There is always going to be another great tour, another great dance. When is the point to stop? I knew I wanted kids and that kids and touring don't go well together. Because I had that year off, I wasn't fearful about the transition."

After retirement, Hurlin was able to focus entirely on Dancers Responding to AIDS, an organization she and fellow Paul Taylor dancer, Hernando Cortez, had founded in 1991. "We were called to action by personal experience," Hurlin recalls, mentioning names of beloved colleagues lost to the epidemic. "We'd jete down Fifth Avenue during the Gay Pride Parade and sell T-shirts--anything to help unify a community that was watching people around them die."

They caught the attention of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and today, as a program under that umbrella, DRA raises funds that are distributed to AIDS service organizations across the United States, as well as to the Actor's Fund of America, an organization that assists all arts professionals in health crises.

DRA produces fund-raising events such as The Fire Island Dance Festival, the Remember Project, and the New York City Festival of Dance, and enlists dance companies to make audience appeals at the end of performances. They also partner with dance studios across the country to fund-raise through a competition for "Studio of the Year."

At DRA, Hurlin works closely with Ariadne Villarreal and Rachel Berman--women who, like herself, transitioned from performing to fundraising and producing. For Villarreal, the transition went smoothly, because she had spent several years working for a Japanese entertainment company, Hello Music, as both a dancer and a producer. "I trained myself to do something else while I was still dancing," Villarreal explains. "There was a two-to-three-year overlap when I was doing both simultaneously. Finally, I said 'I don't want to dance in this show, because I have sixty other dancers to worry about!'" Based on her experience, Villarreal strongly recommends, "Find another path before you hang up your dance shoes. Go find out if you like retail or teaching. If you are going to leave a great dance career, you want to have a great alternative career lined up."

Coming to DRA in 2003 was a welcome change for Berman, who had spent several years teaching and doing freelance projects upon leaving the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1999. As Berman describes, "it is certainly nice to have a steady paycheck, with full benefits. Steady, especially compared to freelance work where it is off and on." Although her current position is full-time, it still offers great variety. "We produce so many different events that my job is not routine. Yes, I do go to the office from 10:00 to 6:00 now instead of to the studio, but we are always working on different events, talking to companies, and making up ideas as we go along," Berman notes. She also enjoys applying the knowledge she gained through years of performing to her latest role. "Producing concerts is new, yet not unfamiliar to me. Now I am just on the other side of the curtain. I understand the theater, I understand the needs of the performers," Berman says. "I am learning every day about the financial side of this work and the ability to multi-task, along with more mundane things such as updating computer skills. I am always hoping to teach more often and return to the studio in some capacity, but it feels good to know that we are raising money and doing great work at DRA. We're really making a difference in people's lives in a more tangible way than through art."

Darrah Carr is a New York City-based writer, choreographer, and teacher, active in both the Irish and modern dance communities.
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Title Annotation:Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
Author:Carr, Darrah
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:785
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