Dance/USA Meeting
Music Center, Los Angeles
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

At the lunch meeting convened by Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional concert dance, to discuss the upcoming succession of Executive Director Andrea Snyder in June 2011, two meal options were offered: a chicken pasta dish and a vegetarian pasta dish. Both looked quite tasty and under normal circumstances, either would suffice.

But the meeting was held during Passover and, as such, I am forbidden to consume any type of bread/wheat/flour/grain/etc. So neither was really working for me. But no worries. As soon as Tommy Lee, assistant to Director of Dance Programming at the Music Center Renee Williams, learned of this he went out of his way to find something that would satisfy my kosher-ness. A few minutes later, a mixed green salad with grilled chicken was delivered. Frankly, I don’t think I would have made it through the meeting without it.

And what I realized following the gathering was that the discussion about Dance/USA felt rather similar to my culinary dilemma.

Dance/USA, as represented at this meeting by board president Paul King of Whitebird, the dance presenter in Portland (and a man I greatly, greatly love and respect) explained the types of services offered by the organization and what it aims to do. But to the folks in the Los Angeles dance scene who attended, a scene which is notoriously fragmented given the widely dispersed geography, the lack of dance tradition in the town, and the overwhelming presence of the film and television industries, the tasks and objectives felt distant and maybe a bit irrelevant.

With subsidiary organizations in New York, D.C., and Philadelphia, it’s no wonder LA dance makers and presenters felt a bit at a loss as to how they see the east coast-centric Dance/USA, whether it’s truly a leader in the dance field, and what specifically it could do for them.

In that way, it was like Dance/USA was saying, well, we can offer you the chicken pasta or the vegetarian pasta and being proud for considering the vegetarians in the crowd and making the effort to accommodate their needs. But out in LA, it felt like people were saying: Thanks, but actually neither of those options work for us.

So now its a question of whether Dance/USA has the capacity to go out of their way to address the specific, particular needs of a minority population, or at least redefine the mission so not everyone expects lunch. But if they take a cue from Tommy, I think they’ll do just fine.