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Interview: Two takes on the Dance/USA Annual Conference

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

From Left: Matthew Bade, Beth Whelan, Paul King, and Walter Jaffe

Last month White Bird was lucky enough to send our two Co-Founders, Paul King and Walter Jaffe, as well as two of our administrative staff, Beth Whelan and Matthew Bade to the Dance/USA Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. I got to sit down with Beth and Matthew about their experiences and takeaways from the conference. They had some slightly different experiences as Beth is our Director of Communications and Matthew is our Director of Revenue, Artistic and Community Partnerships so they attended different functions within the conference.

Dance/USA’s website obviously touches on what the conference is about but talking to Beth and Matthew allowed me to learn more about the conference and its structure beyond what their online resources told me. I asked them a few questions about the conference as well as their perceptions of it and they had some good insight into how the four day event went.

For a little background Dance/USA is a national service organization for all dance related companies, organizations, producers, presenters, writers, and artists. They hold an annual conference with attendees including everyone mentioned above. White Bird specifically wanted to go for the presenters and marketing council. The council sessions are closed door so attendees are specialized in that specific area, but there are breakout sessions for everyone to attend that focus more on niche fields and topics.

What did you participate in while there besides the council meetings?

Matthew Bade: Equity training was a big part of the conference because there has been some problems in the past for Dance/USA surrounding inclusivity and equity. They have taken great strides to correct this and have made it a huge part of the conference which I really appreciate.

Beth Whelan: Like Matthew said, I did a lot of the equity training. It has been a big focus for Dance/USA in the past few years and it shows. They have come a long way and are covering these important conversations more and more.

What is something of value you took away from your time there?

MB: It was comforting to see everyone is facing the same problems as we are. There was a sense of comradery in sharing our common issues. The work that is really draining for us are things everyone is dealing with.

BW: I got a lot from a breakout session about dismantling privilege. It started with an impactful example using contact improvisation. The speaker started by improvising with someone they never had before. The contact was very surface level and didn’t have much depth to it. Then the speaker did it again with their longtime contact improvisation partner and was able to speak to us while doing intricate moves with their partner. The point of this exercise was to show that in order to have an effective conversation about privilege both parties need to have knowledge on the issue. This really resonated with me as did the overall theme of ‘educate yourself’. In organizations, there needs to first be an awareness of where the organization is at in terms of diversity and combating privilege and move forward from there. It is no longer meaningful and effective when an organization tries to skip a step in their journey to better inclusivity.

How important is it to have events like this?

MB: It’s important to reconnect, because we are so far away from a lot of the dance world. Our work isn’t simple so conferences like this allow us to learn a lot of things that we can bring back and utilize. It is easy to lose inspiration when you sit at a desk and spend your time advocating for other people, so it is a good catalyst for inspiration.

BW: It is really helpful to hear good tactics and ideas from outside our own office. It allows us to mimic or twist what we learn to fit our format. It gives us more creative flow and acts as a kind of reset button for our practices.

How much of the Cleveland/Ohio dance scene was represented?

BW: A lot! Last year the conference was in LA so it was easy to compare the two and see how centered the conferences are on their regional area. The entire performance aspect of the weekend was showcasing Cleveland/Ohio performers.

What did you enjoy most?