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The Safety Dance


in Conversations Across the Field of Dance Studies 

Autumn 2009

Article excerpt


For some time now, people have lamented the current state of affairs in American performing arts. People fear that art is being suppressed before it is even created. Conversations are shutting down. Audiences are shrinking or being complacent. There is a general lack of risk-taking. Funding is declining. Artists are giving up. There is a real threat to free expression. There is a lack of diversity. There is fear about talking about important issues like race and gender. There is a disappointing relationship between the arts and communities. September 11th seems to have, in some sense, put us on a metaphorical level ‘orange’ with respect to the arts. The Bush administration’s simultaneous arrogance and incompetence created a depressive national feeling. And these were concerns before the “Great Recession.”


Regardless of when things bounce back, professors have an obligation to arm students for the future, no matter the financial climate. We have the constant influx of youthful ‘why not’ energy. We have tremendous talent from many disciplines within one house. In short, the academic institutions are ‘venues’ for art that currently have the greatest potential for taking risks, for nurturing experimentation, for sparking great successes and the tolerating the grand failures that inevitable precede great successes. And I believe that these opportunities can open up the way to revitalize the American performing arts.


The academy can remain fluid and open to new ideas in unique ways that will be both globally-minded and locally intimate and inspiring. It is our privilege and responsibility to make art that matters in the face of those who would deny creative voice. We need to recruit and advocate for the next generation. We need to further community initiatives that expand access and diverse conversations—develop community audiences, bring new people into dialogue without losing others. People need to think of arts spaces as venues for debates between people who are engaged—not just in politics—but also in aesthetics. We need to be global citizens and make international connections and partnerships. To the extent that we build bridges and encourage travelers across this geometry, we will create a more vital arena for our students to realize their full potential as artists. They will have broader conceptions of themselves as artists. They will have a bolder idea of how the performing arts can have an impact on the world. They will have a bigger toolkit to draw on as a future professionals. And they will in turn become professionals who disrespect boundaries, build bridges and create dialogues.


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