Inspiring Young Dancers: Alternative Collaborations

Featured Member Profile

I’m hoping to meet Dana Reed this summer. Not just because her dance company, Alternative Collaborations, transforms space with their virtuosic performances, and not just because she’s had an enviable dance residency in Bali, but because she’s passionate about teaching dance to kids. Her lifelong dream is to run an arts center for the New Orleans community. This July and August she’ll be in my hometown of Lewiston, Maine, directing the Youth Arts Program at the Bates Dance Festival, and I’m eager to see her campers’ work.

Dana, please tell us what is “alternative” about your dance collaborations.

The performances are choreographed, inspired by, and performed in “alternative” spaces instead of a traditional theatre.  Performances have taken place in art galleries, state parks, abandoned buildings, alleys, a parking garage, in streets and on sidewalks.

Can you describe one of your more memorable alternative collaborations?

My most memorable collaboration took place in a parking garage in Jackson, Mississippi, and was commissioned by the Fondren Renaissance Foundation.  It was entitled, “Inside Herself/Cell” (see excerpts in video below). Along with my dance company (myself, Marlena Duncan, Emily Mauer, and Julie Turner), the collaborators were Lori Rene (visual artist and metal sculptor), Stephen Barnett (sound and lighting), Kelly Porter (graphic designer), and the 5th grade dance class at Academic and Performing Arts Complex (APAC) school (additional performers).

Together, we transformed an ordinary parking garage into a stage.  A metal sculpture was placed downstage, its cage-like structure represented the body of a woman, and Rene performed an improvisational dance which represented the spirit of the woman being trapped inside her own body and/or life.  Four seven-foot paintings of women were hung from the rafters as if they were floating in the garage.  The four dancers reflected the stories behind each woman in the painting and soloist: e.g. Duncan was a reflection of the “trapped” Rene, who was “released” from herself in the end.  Five dance students from APAC’s fifth grade class performed a section representing the innocence of children and how they see the world.

Do you have a pipe-dream collaboration?

Currently, I am waiting for my next wave of inspiration.  However, I believe my next project will be based on my trip to the Mother Temple in Bali.

Please tell us about your artistic residence in Bali, and that trip to the Mother Temple.

I received a residency from the Purnati Center for the Arts in Bali, Indonesia, in 2009. Overall, it was an incredible experience that words can only begin to describe.  The center is located right outside the city of Ubud and is almost like an oasis: small bungalows dispersed around the property, a large theater for rehearsal, and a beautiful pool overlooking a river.  I spent most of the residency attending the many complex ceremonies the Balinese religion has to offer, and studied Balinese dance with a professional performer.

My most memorable moment was when I traveled with the Purnati staff to make an offering at the Mother Temple.  This is Bali’s most famous temple.  It is located on the side of a volcano.  Every ten years, a special ceremony is held and the Balinese people make a pilgrimage to the Temple to make an offering.  The travel there is not easy; winding single lane roads that weave up the mountain make the initial drive long and slow.  Once you reach the parking lot, there is still more traveling by foot up thousands of stairs.  Along the walk, there are many vendors set up to sell you clothes, food, and souvenir-type items.

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The night we went, it was pouring rain.  Everyone, including myself, was soaking wet and almost no one had an umbrella.  We were all dressed in Balinese garb, the women in colorful sarongs, lacy blouses and bright sashes tied around the waist — all stuck to our bodies due to the rain.  Once I entered the temple, I was speechless with the beauty.  There were statues of the gods draped in beautiful fabrics, hand-woven offering baskets filled with colorful flowers, and the front of the temple was lined with fruit.

Because of the rain, the entire temple was flooded. The water was above our ankles, but this did not stop the ceremony.  Everyone, even children, kneeled in the water and performed the rituals of making offerings to the gods.  To me, it was like a performance. The crowd of hundreds kneeling to make their offering, the voices praying in the native language, the sounds of the gamelan in the background, the movements of the arms and bowing of the upper bodies — all these elements came together to produce an inspiring vision of the true Balinese art form, their religion.  Someday, I hope to recreate this scene in an alternative performance space, hopefully in the rain.  I am inspired to capture the beauty of the Balinese and their dedication to their religion, art, and culture.

On your website, you describe teaching dance, especially teaching dance to children, as your “true passion”…

By teaching dance, I change lives daily.  After every class, I am fully rewarded in my soul.  I am overwhelmed with happiness, success, and pride in my career.  Teaching dance is where I belong. Without it, I feel lost and unfulfilled.

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You’re the director of the Youth Arts Program at the renowned Bates Dance Festival. What is it about teaching dance that keeps you coming back to it again and again?

Year after year, I spend three weeks at the Bates Dance Festival directing the Youth Arts Program just to experience the 20-minute finale performance.  To see every child on that stage glow and be proud of who they are and what they have accomplished.  That in itself is life changing.

What is Kid’s Play NOLA?

Kid’s Play NOLA is the satellite program from the parent organization Hope Stone, which is the home of Kid’s Play Ensemble Houston, founded in 2001 by Jane Weiner. The Kid’s Play project brings free summer and after school arts education to students between the ages of 6-18.  It is not a project to create artists, but instead brings art and art education to children and youth, cultivating humanity, community, compassion, and improved mental health. The program offers a natural outlet and release through the arts and is often therapeutic for the kids. The children are enriched by improved self esteem and a sense of empowerment.

Who or what have been your biggest influences in dance, teaching, and/or life?

Jane Weiner has been my biggest life influence.  I met Jane ten years ago as a college student at the Bates Dance Festival.  I was at a crossroads in my career path.  At this time I was unfamiliar with community arts programs.  My college training focused on dance education in more of a school setting and less in community arts.  I remember watching the Youth Arts Program performance at the finale at the Bates Dance Festival and everything came together for me.  I wanted so badly to be a part of that!  After the show, I introduced myself to Jane and asked how I could get involved.  The following year, I applied for the education internship and now I am director of the program and working with Jane to start a new program in New Orleans.  She has guided me for the last ten years and allowed me to find my own way and voice in community arts.  I am so excited about starting Kid’s Play NOLA with Jane’s help — I feel like I have been offered a golden ticket to start my lifelong dream of operating a multi-arts center for the New Orleans community.

What has been your greatest success to date?

My greatest success to date is receiving a performance residency from the Chen Dance Center in New York City.  In 2008, my New Year’s resolution was to create a dance solo for myself.  In all my years of dancing, I had never created a dance for myself (unless it was for a dance assignment in college).  My reason was a lack of self confidence in my style of dancing.  I knew it was something that I needed to do in order to move forward in my choreography, performing and teaching.  It was a barrier that needed to be broken.  The process of creating “Best Kept” was slow and challenging, but I stuck with it through all the frustration.  After almost a year of rehearsing, I decided to audition for the residency.  Since I was chosen for the residency and performed my solo, I have more pride and confidence in my movement capabilities.  This experience has given me a stronger artistic voice and it has made me a better-rounded teacher.

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What motivated you to become a member of Fractured Atlas?  How do you use your Fractured Atlas membership?

I was introduced to Fractured Atlas by Cat Scratch Theatre’s Jeramy Zimmerman, who already was (and still is) a member.  As director of Alternative Collaborations, I started to look for more ways to raise funds for projects.  In order to raise more money and receive larger donations, I started looking into getting my 501(c)3.  It is a very costly and timely process and I realized that the company was not ready for it.  Fractured Atlas’s fiscal sponsorship program was exactly what I needed; my donors can have tax benefits from their donations.

In addition, I find all the templates Fractured Atlas provides for grant writing and donation requests very useful.  I also applied for one of their microgrants and received feedback which has helped further my grant writing skills.  I find many of the programs they offer very useful, such as purchasing health and liability insurance.  It is also easy to keep up with payroll records, and a great way to network and find other organizations in your area.

Please finish the following sentence: “A world without art is…”

A world without art is a world I would not want to live in.  I am putting all my efforts now into bringing art to children because I am afraid that so much emphasis is put into test scores and so many schools are cutting out their art programs.  Children need art just as much as they need science and math.  It is important for them to explore their creativity and imagination, after all that is how inventors are created.  Art helps us think beyond the norm and gives us the confidence to pursue our “strange and unusual” ideas. Art gives us hope and an outlet to escape reality.  A world without art would be no world at all, just a boring black box.

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Is there any advice that you would give to a dancer at the start of their career?

Networking!  It is the most important thing.  Get yourself out into the world of dance and make connections — it is very small community and everyone wants to help you succeed.  Take classes from multiple teachers and introduce yourself. Make sure they know your name.  Once you have made connections, use them!  Don’t be afraid to call someone up and ask for help.

What’s next on your professional horizon?

I have recently relocated to New Orleans to start Kid’s Play NOLA, which will launch this June with a 2-week dance and music camp.  With the help of Fractured Atlas’s fiscal sponsorship and Hope Stone, we were able to raise enough funds to give 30 scholarships.  My long term goal is to open a year-round, multi-arts center for youth, ages 6-18, that offers after school and weekend art education at no cost.  The art center will also house the Alternative Collaborations Dance Company, which will provide professional dance classes to the community and performances throughout New Orleans, the U.S. and abroad.  In addition, master art teachers will provide other professional classes and work with our Kid’s Play NOLA program to offer a quality arts education program.  The art center will offer residencies to up and coming dance and theater companies in the community.  All in all, it will be a hub for a variety of art forms to be nurtured and grow, which will keep the New Orleans community thriving with new and innovative works of art.

How can we see, experience, and learn more about your work?

Follow Kid’s Play NOLA on Facebook and Twitter, and keep up with our blog. You can learn more about the Youth Arts Program at the Bates College Dance Festival by watching this video.


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