National Dance Week: the California Bay Area celebrates.
"It turned out we had 50 people," David says, still astonished, nearly a year later. "The response was phenomenal. Our participants were overwhelmed by the power of learning the dance, hugging and crying when we said goodbye."
David's company is far from the only group to draw new comers during Bay Area National Dance Week. Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith, directors of the fledgling company RAWdance, registered an event and drew 25 complete strangers, many of whom returned months later for their concert. Rhythm and Motion Dance Center took their "Fusion Rhythms" class to the street with the help of a boom box, making traffic slow down and construction workers gawk. "It was a powerful feeling," says director of programming and general manager Thor Anderson. "I see Bay Area National Dance Week as a communitywide boost."
National Dance Week is celebrated across the country every April, but the Bay Area's locally organized festivities have been especially effective at creating a buzz. More than 100 groups and 2,500 artists take part every year, hosting everything from open rehearsals to mini-dance class samplers. Thousands of audience members come out for these and for cornerstone events like the South Bay's "Dancin' Downtown" and the Bay Area Dance Awards. All this on an organizational budget of less than $75,000 and with a staff of two part-time employees.
The celebration's motto is simple: "All free! All dance! All week!" Any dance group is welcome to register for BANDW, as long as their event is free and open to all. The registration costs range between $45 and $105, depending on the size of the group's annual budget. That registration buys a listing on the BANDW website and another one in an attractive event guide with a circulation of 80,000 (50,000 are inserted into the San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper). It also buys the right to use the BANDW affiliation and logo when marketing the event. Bay Area National Dance Week hangs red banners in crowded Union Square, and pays a publicist to blanket the town.
The concept is modeled on the visual art world's Open Studios, in which newcomers to art are invited to visit different artists' studios. This approach to NDW showcases the fullness and diversity of the dance scene to a larger public. "One woman told me she found the event guide in the paper and planned to go to one event every day, and I thought 'Gosh, this works,'" says project administrator Mica Miro.
For Bay Area dance studios, the gain in enrollment is modest but meaningful. For companies, the benefits can be lasting: And Still Dancing not only collected glowing survey sheets, but gained three new company members during last year's workshop. David says that success is due to the inclusiveness BANDW organizers foster. "They are open, friendly, and supportive," she says. "They make it seem as though you're doing them a favor. All over the Bay Area, wonderful interesting things are happening and there's no barrier for entry."
Since 1998 when Bay Area National Dance Week began, the organization has faced pressure to produce shows and become more of a service organization, but BANDW has decided to stick with what it does best: promoting the visibility of dance.
The key is finding committed board members as the project calls more for volunteer hours and connections than money. "Any area with an arts scene has people with strong ideas," says Rein, who works as project coordinator for BANDW in addition to directing RAWdance. "When they band together, amazing things can happen."
Rachel Howard writes about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and is the author of The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder (Dutton, 2005).
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|Date:||Apr 1, 2006|
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