The dance world is used to being poor. In fact, I think sometimes we take pride in it. Dancers dance because they love it, grateful for the most meager of compensation (non-paid rehearsals and embarrassingly symbolic performance “honorariums” for most). Few are those who make a comfortable living solely on the basis of performance and the actual craft of dance. Much more common are the multiple jobs (running from coffee shop to office to teaching to rehearsal) and long, physically taxing days that may or may not allow for health insurance and the occasional personal splurge.
So given this reality, what the hell was the Dance/USA conference doing at the Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City (just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.)? It was a perplexing paradox for the poorest of art forms to gather in the finest of accommodations, to sip complimentary wine and sample tray-passed hors d’oeurves in the sleek House of Sweden, the elegant balcony of the Kennedy Center, and the stunning beauty of the National Botanic Gardens in the shadow of the Capitol.
More perplexing still were the grumblings and critiques that bubbled up here and there, the pointed questions as to why scarce funds would be channeled to such decadence. While I have absolutely no knowledge of the deals made, the costs incurred, or the income received for the conference, I can only observe that the conference and special hotel rates for attendees were comparable to all other conferences I have attended at various other organizations and that it seems clear that the sponsors (corporate and government) of the various receptions were footing the bills for our fêting, not the organization itself.
The larger point to be made, however, is that we in the world of dance seem to have become afraid of comfort, to a degree. We are suspicious of luxury, wary of extravagance. This makes perfect sense for a mostly non-profit field in a struggling economy. And it also raises important questions of accessibility that must be weighed (though again it seems that this conference is no more expensive than others and has demonstrated a commitment to access through several scholarship programs – of which I was a recipient).
But dammit, it sure felt good to feel rich for just a second. Dance looks like it’ll continue to survive on foundation and government handouts for years to come. As hopeful as I am, I don’t foresee a financial boom in our future. Yet we work hard and devote our lives to this art and deserve to celebrate that now and then. If DeWitt Stern recognizes our commitment and wants to throw us a nice party, I am deeply appreciative. If Harlequin Floors or Freed of London think that an open bar will enhance our theater-going experience at the Kennedy Center, I say “thank you, and please pass the cheese plate.”
And if staying at the Ritz gives us a small sense of excitement, allows us to brag a bit to our friends and colleagues elsewhere, and gives the impression that Dance/USA springs only for the best because that’s what we and Dance deserve, then I’m all for it. Let’s envision a world of prosperity for Dance and remind ourselves – even if only every once in a while – what that world might feel like.