One of the most common questions my students used to ask me while I taught at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is how they could find dance opportunities after they graduate. With no dance major at Cal Poly, these students are preparing to venture into fields like architecture, engineering, and rocket science. Many already realize that they will have to seek out the dance training and community building that has been in easy proximity for most of their lives via local studios, school dance teams, and university programs. Finding classes and performance opportunities for those over 18 years of age and at an experienced level can be challenging. And, sometimes when nothing already exists, you have to be the one to take action. I’m talking, “if you build it, they will come”* situations. With all of the changes that have happened over the past couple of years, be it by choice (moving back home or to a more affordable city) or circumstances beyond your control (studio closure), I have a feeling people are looking to establish, or reestablish, a community more than ever. For those of you who are seeking a dance community, now’s the time to find your people!
I've enlisted the help of two peers who have found success in figuring out how to build a community to share their experiences and advice. Tanya Knippelmeir (UPside Dance in Healdsburg, CA) and Meghan Lawitz (Rogue Co. in Boulder, CO) both used their passion for dance to build a community of artists that hold day jobs mostly in fields outside of the dance world. When asked why they both started their dance companies, which offer weekly classes with the company as well as dancers in their community, they had similar answers. Tanya said, "UPside started in 2012 by Kate Ahumada Vazzoler and myself after moving back to a small town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Not seeing any advanced adult dance classes or professional adult dance companies in the area, we were confused and starved for a good modern class. Most training at studios was geared towards the 8 to 18-year-old bracket and felt very unwelcoming to anyone outside the age. We started teaching modern classes and discovered UPside offered a place for dancers in the area to come out of hiding finally. Some were former professional dancers that had moved to the area because of reasons like being closer to family or their careers." Meghan spoke to the blossoming of the company mission after a few years of trying out different dance styles and goals. "Once the company's style and direction had shifted, we started to find our niche, and a new goal emerged: to create a place for established dancers and emerging artists to play and grow within the ever-evolving world of contemporary dance."
Both Meghan and Tanya mention the importance of teaching classes for community building. Meghan says that "teaching classes in the community has helped to establish my reputation and recruit dancers over the years. Local dancers will drop into class to get a feel for my contemporary movement, and the relationship will grow from there. Not only is this more of a relaxed ‘audition,’ but over time, I'm able to see if it is a mutual fit for future involvement. Most of the dancers on Rogue right now are a part of the company because they had previously dropped into some classes, and we hit it off! I even have a few dancers on Rogue who were my students at one point." Tanya also mentioned that UPside doesn't hold auditions. Dancers invited into the company are ones who attended class and contributed to the community of UPside before the rehearsal process. Phrase-work can then be taught in class, minimizing the need for extra rehearsal time. Additionally, teaching phrases in class saves the company on studio rental costs and recognizes the diversity of schedule that one with a full-time job presents. "Rogue is comprised of full-time professional dancers as well as dancers who have full-time careers in education, architecture, and design. What's wonderful about Rogue is the company's minimal requirements allow the dancers to have full-time jobs as well as an outside life from the studio. We love our craft but also understand the financial responsibilities of life, and we work to accommodate these needs in the lives of our dancers," says Meghan.
Classes for UPside are taught at Yoga on Center in Healdsburg. Though the space is yoga-designated, it has mirrors, a lovely wood floor, a sound system, and a central downtown location. Sometimes, though, space rental can be challenging, so I encourage you to find other methods of dancing with others. To find your people, contact those other adults you may have met in your trial youth dance class, or put up a poster at work or on social media and see what dancers come out of the woodwork. Then, get together with your new besties and head to a local park, an empty parking lot, gym studio, or a friend’s garage -- any safe space for dancing -- and start moving! (I suggest doing this in some sweet tennis shoes to protect your feet.) Teach each other phrases, take a DancePlug class, or just improvise together and see where this leads. With a bit of time and effort, your atypical dance experience might just lead to the exact community of dancers you’re looking for. A good friend of mine did this with her yoga studio–she started teaching classes in a park and now she runs a very successful yoga studio in Colorado!
"Stay optimistic and carve a pathway for yourself that works for life and dance". - Tanya Knippelmeir
If you’re not interested in teaching or being the one in charge, look into community college offerings. Many community or city colleges have bustling programs with class offerings that are designed to fit into a working person’s schedule. Another option is to push for more adult class options at your local youth dance studio. Faculty members might be craving an opportunity to work with dancers closer to their own age, but no one may have suggested adult class offerings to the teachers or owner. In San Luis Obispo, a local studio addressed this by starting an Adult Cardio Jazz Funk class the partakers lovingly nicknamed “Mom Hop” (dance moms doing Hip Hop) that gives the moms and dads of the dancers an opportunity to dance while their kids were in their own class. Hear me out: though this level might sound too slow for a professional dancer, I attended class weekly because of the community. My good friend, Melissa (also a professional dancer and now an assistant winemaker in Napa and a dancer with UPside), and I would take “Mom Hop” then get a glass of wine after. It was the highlight of my week! We just wanted to move with adults, and this class offered precisely what we wanted: fun movement, great music, adult humor, and lots of sweat.
I asked Meghan and Tanya to offer some final pieces of advice on how to build a dance community. From Meghan, “My advice for those who want to find a dance community is to jump into local classes in the area and see what dance training you like! Take all of the classes in all of the styles you are interested in, and most importantly INTRODUCE YOURSELF to the teachers, to the students, and to the dancer you keep passing in the hall. You never know what dance opportunities might arise from these encounters. Drop-in regularly, be an attentive learner, be respectful, and share your passion. As the director of Rogue, I want to work with dancers who have a deep love for this art and understand the value of self-growth.” When asked to offer advice on starting their own company, she said, “DO IT! 100% take the chance. My advice for those who wish to start a dance company: remember the work created will not please everyone all of the time. If you can keep true to yourself and make content you are proud of, you will carve out your path in the community, and people will want to be a part of that vision.” Tanya probes, “ask yourself, how do you want to stand out in your art community? What makes you different or how can you add to your area's dance scene? What do you want to give to the community? How will you involve your community? What does your area need? Who do you want to attract to your classes? Who is your audience? Who do you want to collaborate with?” Fittingly she adds, “Look at the UPside of life (get it?) Stay optimistic and carve a pathway for yourself that works for life and dance.”
Near Healdsburg, California? Take Contemporary Modern Dance for the Continuing Dancer with Tanya Knippelmeir and Jordan Hayes at Yoga On Center.
Near Boulder, Colorado? Take Advanced Contemporary with Meghan Lawitz at Block 1750
*From ”Field of Dreams” - 1989 film