An Introduction to Meet the Dance Makers

by Ali Duffy

Dance makers around the world offer many unique perspectives comprising a diverse range of social and cultural identities, histories, and practices. The purposes of choreography may also vary greatly based on where a choreographer is making dance and how that place and its people define and value dance. For example, in many western cultures such as in the United States, dance is perceived as an art form, as entertainment, as sports/health activity, and as social and cultural tradition. Whereas, in some cultures, dance is a purely social, traditional, or ritual-based phenomena in which gestural elements, performance environments, costuming, and training may be related to rites of passage, familial or community roles,  or religion. This book features interviews with dozens of choreographers, producers, and performers from around the world to give readers a sense of the vast array of the purposes, meanings, and impacts of dance.

The Need for this Book

This book’s development comes from a need in the field for literature that relays the diverse experiences of choreographers around the world – a resource that gives credence to the many ways and reasons that dance is made and for whom. Having taught choreography, improvisation, dance technique, and dance theory at the postsecondary level since 2006, I have noticed a gap in literature related to the diversity of reasons for and methods of making choreography. Many of the published books and articles about dance making describe western or Eurocentric methods of creating works of choreography specifically in the contemporary, ballet, or jazz genres (although, overwhelmingly in postmodern traditions) for a proscenium stage or screen. Choreography books are often related to creating work for specific purposes: a composition course/assignment or a public performance. And the choreography texts that exist often relay outdated methods of ideating and creating, relegating choreography to a set of standardized principles and step-by-step guides and checkboxes to add dynamic qualitative, shape-based, and/or thematic/storytelling details.

I find this field of texts lacking because of other choreographers’ experiences I have heard and of my own experiences as a dance maker. The complexities of creating for specific purposes and within the context of various places and times, combined with challenges and needs of differing employers, funders/granting organizations, and group or company dynamics makes for a rich, diverse field of choreographic possibility, even just for those working in contemporary genres in the United States! These stories and perspectives become even richer when adding the contexts of global cultures and nations and how dance makers develop, adapt, and adjust their work based on cultural, social, and historical standards that may differ from those in US-American contemporary work for the stage and screen.

Meet the Dance Makers reveals choreographers’ processes of creating, including their methods of selecting jobs to take and of selecting dancers with whom to work, their roles in creating or co-creating movement, and ways they promote and present their work publicly. It also unpacks deeply held beliefs about why they believe dance is important, where they see the field going in the future, and their own personal goals and points of pride and success.

Meet the Authors

In August, 2022, I met the students in my First Year Seminar in Dance course, held annually every fall in Texas Tech University’s Dance program. The 17 undergraduate students registered for the course were all declared, newly incoming Dance majors or minors and all have intentions of pursuing dance professionally in some way after graduation. With support from the Texas Tech Libraries, I developed a written course component that combined the tenets of the first-year learning experience in the Dance program with the opportunity for these students to interview dance professionals who they admire and to become published authors in this book. All interviewees featured in this book agreed to their names and other information being published here.

The 17 authors hail from Texas, New York, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma. They are students exploring the range of dance as an art form, entertainment, vehicle for community engagement, and scholarly pursuit. They come from a wide variety of dance backgrounds, including from competitive private studios and conservatory settings, from drill teams and pom squads, from musical theatre experiences, and from public school environments. This range of experience provided an opportunity for multiple perspectives and value systems to be intertwined into our collective process for selecting people to feature in this book, which we detail in the next section.

As their professor, I am delighted by the opportunity these students had to expand their understandings about dance through active, experiential learning in this process of interviewing and writing about genres and perspectives that many of them were unfamiliar with prior to this experience. As a tool for learning and for advocacy of the field, I would encourage other educators to explore similar projects. My hope is that, through my students’ writing and through their framing of 17 unique professional perspectives of the field, readers gain new awareness of the incredible diversity of and hope for our field to thrive and continue expanding.

Process of Selecting and Interviewing Choreographers

Among the objectives of the First Year Seminar in Dance course is the goal of supporting students’ awareness of diverse dance forms and genres and their research and writing about dance. To further emphasize these goals, I developed a new unit centered on a writing assignment that would lead to the students selecting dance genres to represent in this book, then selecting representative dance makers to interview, and then writing and refining the interview data for inclusion in this book.

The students and I spent one class meeting creating a list of more than 40 distinct dance genres or forms they – and I – were interested in representing. Using a name randomizer, each student was then randomly paired with a specific genre to research as homework. During the following class session, we heard from each of the students about what they learned of their respective forms. Their homework after that second class was to develop a list of between 5-10 people who were established in this genre or form and who had enough of an online presence that they could be contacted for a teleconferenced interview.

Students scheduled and conducted interviews and, in some cases, follow up interviews, over a period of a month in fall, 2022 and spent the rest of the fall semester transcribing interviews, analyzing interview data, collecting additional resources, and writing the first drafts of their chapters.

In spring, 2023, I took over as editor of their chapters. Although the semester had ended, I continued to communicate with the authors about edits to their chapters and we went through a few rounds of drafts of each chapter to ensure clarity and each author’s intended tone and style within the overall book structure.

In this series of interviews we hope to convey the sheer depth of commitment and persistence a career in dance making requires. We also hope to survey a large swatch of dance genres to expand readers’ sense of how expansive a field dance is and how dance communicates meaning, creates community, and underlines social and cultural values.

We also wish to thank our interviewees who continue to inspire and activate us toward our own goals in dance and have made us newly revitalized to stay motivated and steadfast in our own dance pursuits. We thank you for your generosity and encouragement and are thrilled to share your amazing dreams, ideas, and accomplishments with the world through this book.