Tag Archives: dance


Today, the first day of spring, is also Arts Advocacy Day. In case you’ve missed it, the arts and humanities are on the chopping block in the proposed federal budget.

It comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a huge advocate for the arts. I found this link incredibly useful in that it offers a variety of ways to reach out, respectfully and thoughtfully, to your representatives. Your reps (remember, they work for US) need to hear from you regarding your opinion on matters that important to you.

If being in band shaped you into a better math student (and it probably did – they’re closely related); if being in theatre helped you overcome a fear of speaking in public; if sculpting helped you decide to become a mechanical engineer – then you benefited from an arts education.

If a play made you think, or a dance made you feel, or a painting made you question, or a symphony made you weep – then you have been touched by the arts.

If those things are important to you, your family, your children, your community, our culture and society, I urge you to connect with your elected representatives and explain specifically WHY it’s important that the arts remain a part of the federal budget.

There are a variety of links on the page that explain in greater detail what I’m talking about. Click on each one to gain a greater understanding of how the federal money is distributed, used, and matched.

Click here for the Arts Advocacy Toolkit.

Click here for Americans For The Arts.


go do: PRESENTING (Part II)

In Part I of this post, I covered some of the practical issues in preparing for a presentation. Now that you know when and where you’re speaking AND what you’re speaking about, it’s time to begin collecting your thoughts, words, and images.

Consider theme. Most of the talks I give are meant to be inspirational, as opposed to informational so I tend to start by thinking thematically. Recently, I was asked to speak to high school students about the importance of arts in education. I knew I wanted to include a personal story, given that I have received the benefits of arts programs; and I knew I wanted to include a few statistical examples that reinforced the overall point of arts education. After some thought, I landed on a theme of creativity since that is common to all arts classes. My story and my data both spoke to the importance of arts education to those who pursue and (perhaps more importantly) do not pursue the arts; and how it improves their overall education (and aptitude in non-arts subjects). Having an overarching theme allows you to connect seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive presentation. You don’t have to put your theme in the title; in fact, no one even has to know you have one. It’s simply a tool to help guide you in assessing whether or not all of your points fit under one “big idea”.

Along with theme, consider your point of view. Audiences respond to speakers who know their subject and, perhaps more importantly, are passionate about their subject. Infuse your presentation with words and thoughts that originate in your core. If your words are rooted in conviction and reinforce your points, you will deliver them in a more genuine, honest way. Otherwise, your audience may sense you’re being disingenuous which will cause them to disengage.

Create structure. People are story-based. We crave a beginning, middle, and end. You can insure that you deliver on this by carefully considering your presentation in the context of your theme. Typically this involves presenting a point, providing illustrative information that reinforces the point, then referencing it back to your larger theme before moving onto your next point.

There are several ways to create your structure. Analytical, logical types may want to start with an outline in a word program. Others might choose to create mind maps. I actually prefer to work in Keynote. Many presenters believe this is a bad idea, because it can place too much emphasis on “snazzy visuals” instead of content (and it can, so beware). My work, however, inherently relies on relaying concepts in a visual way so I find “thinking” in Keynote to be very helpful. I usually start with a theme/title page, then create pages for each of my points and fill in some preliminary information. This forces me to stick to my point when I’m putting info on the page. I can instantly see whether or not it fits on that page or should move to another. It’s essentially an outline built in Keynote, but it works for me. Your approach can also depend on the style of presentation. Experiment with a few different approaches and use what works best for your style.

Create connection. People also crave connection. Anyone can stand up and read stats from a slide. Make your presentation personal by sharing a story that illustrates your point (bonus points if its humorous and allows people to see themselves in a similar situation). Take a look at this video on TED. In it, Sir Ken Robinson establishes his points, but then goes further by telling several compelling stories that illustrate his ideas; some are about other people, some are about him or his family. What stories do is open a window between the audience and speaker, allowing the audience to see themselves  (or someone they know) in these stories; creating a connection. This brings the audience closer to the storyteller and makes it easier for them to digest the ideas the speaker is presenting.

Collect your visuals. Eventually, you’ll need to start gathering all of your images. I’m primarily motivated and moved by visuals; so I allow a lot of time to browse for images and video that support my subject.

You’ll create a folder for your talk. In it, create a subfolder for notes, another for images, and another for video. Then search through your own files and the internet, remembering that this exercise is all about volume. It’s okay to harvest a LOT of images. You’ll edit later (more on that in part II).

Go for striking, uncluttered, high-contrast images because those tend to read best from far away AND can be seen clearly even when the projector is dim or low-quality. Steer clear of the banal and the literal. You want the visual to support your idea, not bludgeon the audience with its obviousness.  To that end, don’t be afraid to be abstract or whimsical.

Collect high-resolution images (aim for 1920×1080 minimum). Crop out any extraneous or distracting details. Rename the file to something that is easy for you to remember or locate quickly; and place all of the files in your respective folders.

One last point on visuals. Someone went to the effort to create the visuals that you find so wonderful. Be an awesome human and give them credit. The easiest way to remember the creator is to put the credit info in the file name; but the best way is to right-click on the image and fill out the meta-data (using Properties on PC or Get Info on Mac). Both platforms provide editable fields, allowing you to enter the creators name and other info, along with tags to make it searchable.

So now you have your thoughts together, an outline made, and a collection of images and video. What’s next? Part III will cover creating your visual presentation and rehearsing. Part IV will cover presentation day.


!nsp!re – theatre students hitting their marks

Students perform a song from "Newsies"
Students perform a song from “Newsies”
Every summer, thousands of high school Thespians bring their love of all things theatre to the Thespian Festival, a celebration of student achievement in the arts. Organized by the Educational Theatre Association and hosted by the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, the Festival is a one-of-a-kind, weeklong immersion experience in singing, dancing, acting, designing, directing, creating, writing, and memory-making. Festival features workshops presented by theatre professionals, individual and group performances, programs for technical theatre students, and opportunities to audition for college admission and scholarship. It’s an incredible experience for teachers and students and I’m proud to have been involved for the second year.

The week begins with a performance of “An Evening With…”. This year, the show centered around the theatrical work of 8-time Tony-winning composer Alan Menken. Alan couldn’t be with us in person, but a video crew had been dispatched to his home to capture his thoughts.

The show is unique because of how quickly it’s assembled. A cast of 20 student performers is pulled together through remote auditions along with 15 student technicians. They all converge on Lincoln and meet, for the first time, on Saturday night. While the performers attend a vocal rehearsal (conducted by Jason Yarcho, Musical Director of Wicked), the tech students meet and create a plan for each of their respective departments.

The crew for "An Evening With..." meeting for the first time.
The crew for “An Evening With…” meeting for the first time.
On Sunday, the performers have 9 hours of rehearsal, which includes learning the choreography and blocking, cleaning it, then running it in a rehearsal space, all while running lines and attending costume fittings. While they do that, the tech students are devising cue sheets, coordinating microphone plans, and mapping out backstage traffic and activities. In the afternoon, the techs get three hours in the venue to load in and test their respective gear. Platforms are placed, show files are loaded, and other tech elements are set.

The crew for "An Evening With" loading in staging and lighting.
The crew for “An Evening With…” loading in staging and lighting.
On Monday morning, cast and crew meet in the Lied Center for the Performing Arts where they meet the 10-piece band. As they work through the show, the audio crew sets levels, the lighting crew creates cues, the projection crew runs their piece, and the dressers set up their backstage quick-change areas.

The crew for "An Evening With" loading in staging and lighting.
The crew for “An Evening With…” loading in staging and lighting.
After lunch, the cast and crew have one dress rehearsal, then doors open for two back-to-back shows. It’s a somewhat unique experience in that it materializes so quickly, then vaporizes less than 24 hours later. The students run everything backstage – lights, sound, followspots, projection, costumes; under the direction of industry pros. Like last year, I had a great crew with top-notch talent.

Running the show
Running the show
For the remainder of the week, I conducted lighting and projection workshops for a total of about 500 students. This is a rewarding experience because it’s where you see the lightbulbs start going off; as students realize that the soft and hard skills they learn in theatre are suitable to all areas of the entertainment industry and that they can work in concerts, clubs, television, cruise ships and many other areas.

What struck me most is the level of super-engagement of these students. Their passion, dedication, and commitment are extraordinary. One wonders why that is; until you meet their teachers. These theatre teachers are deeply engaged with their art and their students; forming a bridge that carries the students from knowing about theatre to creating theatre. They inspire these students to commit, to create, to embrace, to BE their art. It’s thrilling to watch; and I’m already looking forward to next year.

!nsp!re – Young Drama Students Honing Their Craft

Recently, I had the great pleasure of participating in the International Thespian Festival, held annually on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. We were treated to unusually cool temperatures and only a little rain, which made the week all the more pleasant.

The campus at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
The campus at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The festival is produced by the Educational Theatre Association. It features a full week of activities for high school drama students. Some of the activities include performance and technical competitions (National Individual Events), college auditions, a wide variety of workshops for directors, choreographers, actors, techs, and playwrights, and fully-staged student plays and musicals. Among this years shows were, “Catch Me If You Can”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Mary Poppins”, and “Violet”.

Students rehearsing onstage (Photo by Matt Conover)
Students rehearsing onstage (Photo by Matt Conover)

Also included is an opening night event staffed onstage and backstage by specially selected students. Opening the festival this year was “An Evening with Shaiman and Wittman”, featuring the writer/composer duo of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, a cast of eight students, and two Broadway singer/actors.

Rehearsing "An Evening with Shaiman and Whittman" (Photo by Matt Conover)
Rehearsing “An Evening with Shaiman and Whittman” (Photo by Matt Conover)

The student technicians are mentored by seasoned pros and are afforded a unique learning opportunity; given that the show is blocked and choreographed in a day and teched in about an hour, with no cue -to-cue or other rehearsal.

Lighting focus with me and student Sam Molitoriss (Photo by Matt Conover)
Lighting focus with me and student Sam Molitoriss (Photo by Matt Conover)

It’s a great way for the students to learn how to pull a show out of thin air. I worked with three bright, motivated students and enjoyed my time with them immensely.

Me, with my three lighting students (Sam, Jalyn, and Madison)
Me, with my three lighting students (Sam, Jalyn, and Madison)

The students were also treated to a special cabaret featuring Broadway performers Carla Stickler and Justin Brill.

Carla Stickler, Broadway's current Elphaba from Wicked
Carla Stickler, Broadway’s current Elphaba from Wicked

This week drove home for me, yet again, the importance of introducing and nurturing a love of the arts in our nation’s schools. Only a small percentage of arts/drama/music students choose to pursue a career in the arts. Those who do pursue a career in the arts face a mountain of challenges; made all the more daunting by a culture that devalues artistic contribution and rewards “celebrity” instead.

Those who do not pursue a career still carry a love of the arts into adulthood, introducing their friends, family and children to art, drama, music, and dance; four forms of expression that make us more well-rounded humans; that teach us more about ourselves.

It’s difficult to not be cynical about the state of the arts in our nation. With threatened cuts to the N.E.A, arts programs being cut out or scaled back in public schools, and theaters, operas, and symphonies folding all over the U.S., the outlook appears bleak. This, despite the numerous studies conducted within the last five years concluding that the arts support and cultivate creativity in the nations youth and that creativity is the number ONE quality sought by the world’s business in their leaders.

The conclusion ought to be obvious to our political leaders, but it’s clearly not.

In order to not cave into that bleak cynicism, I volunteer my time to work with these students through the California State Thespians. The time I spend with theatre students rejuvenates my own passion for my chosen career. I see their youthful drive, their unbridled love for their craft, their excitement, energy, and clear sense of purpose and it re-inspires me all over again. I hope they find their experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as I do.

!nsp!re – ARTS EDUCATION WEEK: Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best

In celebration of California Arts Education Week (Sep 8-14), this week’s posts will all focus on arts education.


This post, written by Fran Smith at Edutopia.com, offers a compelling case for growing arts in education in our nation’s classrooms. Some of the more salient points she makes are:

  • Due to the arts cutbacks in the ’70’s and ’80’s, we now have a whole generation of teachers and parents who were not exposed to the arts during their education, making it difficult for them to understand the value that the arts contribute to becoming a well-rounded individual.
  • Arts education enables children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children of means, who are often exposed to the arts outside of classrooms via their parents and family.
  • Years of research show that arts education is linked closely with almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.

I’d agree with all of those and more. The post then goes into great detail about specific educators who are challenging the status quo of reduced arts education, and how they are bringing arts back into their schools.

Click here to read the full article.

For more information California Arts In Education Week, click here to visit the California Arts Council.

!nsp!re – Go. Do. Create.

Back in November 2012, I did a brief series of posts on Facebook during the week of Thanksgiving. One of those posts in particular was the initial spark for this blog. I have revised some of it for this post:

Creativity, along with the ability to accessorize, is what separates us from animals…

I thought about making this post about “art” but decided to take a step back and go more with creativity. If you’ve never visited TED.com, you really owe it to yourself to do so. I recently posted a link to “Ken Robinson Schools Kill Creativity”. This is an 18 minute TED talk on the topic of creativity and how/why schools educate kids OUT of being creative. Ken Robinson contends that creativity is now as important in education as literacy and it should be treated with the same status. I agree completely.

I also agree with him that creativity is the process of “having original ideas that have value” and that it, “more often than not, comes through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”. I believe that creativity is a gift; but the beautiful thing about it is that it’s a gift everyone receives. EVERYONE is creative in one form or another. People always confuse creativity with the ability to make art or music. “Well, I’m not very creative. I could never do anything like that.” I call bullshit on that argument.

You may be creative at solving logistical problems, or writing, or seeing problems with complex systems, or matching paint colors to furniture, or looking at financial issues in creative ways, or coming up with new ideas for ANYTHING. Creativity is everywhere and most people use it every day; whether they acknowledge it or not. I think it’s because most people refuse to characterize themselves as artists; again because of the connotation that they don’t paint, or play music, or write poetry, which is what “real artists” do.

Creativity comes in a multitude of forms but is unfortunately often confused with ability. For example, I have learned the skills necessary to paint; but I have no passion to create paintings. I know how to create story structure; but I have no desire to write stories. I am completely and totally in awe of dancers; because they can do things with their bodies that just confound my mind. I have rhythm but my brain is not creative in the way that it allows me to create some of the moves I’ve seen come out of dancers in my life. My creativity does not follow any of those paths. It’s the same with everyone.

And it’s up to everyone to find out where their creativity lies; feed it, indulge it, and listen to it. Let it tell you where to go.

In my work and in my hobby, I hear, “You’re so creative”, “What a creative idea”, “That’s a creative solution”. Hearing those things is wonderful because I’ve worked hard to curate a sense of the world around me and filter the work through it. But I’d be kidding myself to think I’m unique. We are ALL creative – at SOMETHING.

The gratitude you feel from creating something will fill you with light. I absolutely know this to be true.

So go. Do. Create.

!nsp!re – Ken Robinson on Schools and Creativity

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

I circle back to this particular TED talk every now and again because it resonates to powerfully with me. Sir Ken Robinson, on of my “creativity” heroes, speaks about how our school systems are set up to educate people OUT of being creative as they grow older. It’s a compelling argument and one with which I agree.

In this talk, he also shares a story about the choreographer Gillian Lynne and how her gift of dance was nearly extinguished by an educational system that did not understand the way in which she processed and absorbed information.

Enjoy one of my favorite TED talks here.

intervYOU – Anne Caruthers, Choreographer and Creative Director

We kick off the first of the intervYOU series with a special treat. Anne Caruthers is the President and Creative Director of “Dance From The Heart”, a Texas-based, non-profit, multi-cultural dance organization. Anne and I have known each other for a long while but fell out of touch when I moved to California. We reconnected several years ago on Facebook and it was fascinating to see how life has changed each of us; though the kernel of our initial connection has remained intact. I think her interview is a wonderful window into a creative soul powered by the desire to give.

Anne on stage in Hayati
Anne on stage in Hayati

So, we’re going to start off with some background – tell me how you became inspired to dance.

I wanted to dance since childhood, but never had the “build” for ballet.  I took the path of music and theatre instead, which I also love.  When I began dancing as an adult in a multi-cultural form, what I consider the “harsher rules of the ballet world” didn’t apply.  I was a stay at home mom that had an 11 month old toddler, and I desperately needed adult interaction.  I saw an advertisement for a belly dance class, and I went.  I fell in love with the form, and in six months I was performing with the studio’s dance company.  Looking back, it was WAY too soon for me to be performing, but my stage experience made up for my lack of crisp technique.

And with that, was there some sort of “a-ha” moment?

I think there was, yes.  I listened to so many dancers complain about not being taken seriously because they weren’t ballet/modern/contemporary dancers.  I listened to the people that saw “belly dance” shows and heard their reactions.  I was continually exposed to the misconceptions about this dance and understood how they came to be.  While in conversation with my (now ex) husband one day, it all came together – an a-ha moment of how to incorporate all of my passions (music, dance and theatre) in a way that would potentially make this form of dance more accessible and acceptable to the general public down here in the land of conservatives.

Once you realized you loved performing and creating, what happened?

I actively pursued it on every front.  There were certainly times that I STOPPED pursuing certain aspects when they just didn’t feel right, didn’t fit into my life, etc. but when I was engaged in something creative, it was absolutely with intent and purpose.

Were your parents on board with this?

My mother always encouraged me on every front.  She signed me up for piano lessons, voice lessons and acting lessons, but I had to beg for them.  She wanted to make sure I really wanted it first.  She attended every event, every recital, every play… she never missed a performance of mine unless she was out of the country or ill.  My father supports me now, but wasn’t so excited about my having a career in the arts – it was too risky and not stable enough in his mind.

Alright, so at that moment in time we have a young girl who is young and passionate with the beginnings of some training. How did you expand your training?

I attended theatre classes at the Alley Theatre, took voice lessons with Bettye Gardner here in Houston (also one of my instructors at the Alley), took piano/guitar/banjo lessons throughout my childhood/adolescence, played and sang with local bands and finally began belly dance lessons, followed by Latin Ballroom, Ballet and Flamenco lessons.  I have studied my chosen form of dance with instructors from the Middle East, N. America, Canada and Europe.  I have collaborated with other dancers in different dance forms and continue to interact with and learn from everyone with whom I work.

Is there any correlation between the things you did as a child that relate to your career as an adult?

I was always a ham… would jump at the opportunity to be the center of attention, and was spoiled rotten.  I was obviously ready to perform at a young age, and was drawn to comedy.

Through all of that, was there a teacher that inspired or influenced you?

There is – Ken Dyess (at John Foster Dulles High School in Stafford, Texas) influenced me heavily. He was one of those teachers that could get kids to work for him.  He inspired fierce loyalty and a desire to please, and was a tough love kind of teacher/Director.  My favorite memories of working with him were during “Charley’s Aunt”, for which I was the AD.  I learned a great deal going through the process with him, understanding how he staged, how he got what he wanted from his actors, etc.  Being the ear that heard his comments about what was happening onstage was instrumental to my own Directorial style.  Understanding what he saw and how he saw it … “getting into his head”, essentially, was better instruction than any class.

Well as far as influences go, it seems like you’ve had quite a few good ones. Could you name three people that have made a deep impact on you and describe how they did that?

My father instilled in me a strong work ethic.  When I was younger, it seemed I was in constant conflict with him.  As I have aged, I understand him better and appreciate the lessons he has taught me – even the hard ones I didn’t like very much.  Now, he is my hero.  He has exhibited selflessness I never thought he had and a depth of love I try to give and hope I inspire.  He’s not perfect… but I love him in spite of his serious character flaws (meaning that he doesn’t agree with every word that comes out of my mouth).

My mother passed away in 2009 from Alzheimer’s.  She is the primary reason I do what I do.  From my earliest childhood, she told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, could do anything I worked to accomplish.  I never doubted her, and because of that have attempted things that I probably wouldn’t have dared otherwise.  When I start my creative process for a new project (no matter how big or small), I never forget her words.  I always strive to do what would make her proud of what I’ve produced, and it is always in honor of her memory.

My Aunt (my father’s sister) passed away on my birthday in 2010, after an extended bout with Leukemia.  My Aunt was the picture of grace in this world.  Oh, she wasn’t inhumanly perfect or anything – she was stubborn, she had a temper, and she used some awfully colorful language on occasion.  She was the most giving (and FORgiving), generous, patient, loving soul I have ever known.  She was strong in her faith, and suffered more hardship than just about anyone I know except her daughter, who has had to deal with everything she did, but also had to live through her mother’s passing.  Her spirit, while sometimes battered, was never broken.  I think of her whenever I consider the people we are trying to help.  I think of her when I get frustrated with the process or an individual and start losing patience.  I put her foremost in my thoughts when creating a piece about love, faith, hope or loss as an example of how her grace made such a difference in her life, and in the lives of those around her.  If I need to approach the darker side of those topics, I think of her polar opposite.

It’s surprising and humbling the ways in which families make their mark on us. How about other artistic influences?

There is a wonderful dancer in Indiana – Leila Gamal.  She made the biggest impact on me of any dancer to date.  The moment I saw her move, I was completely captivated.  Even 20 years later, she has the presence to make the rest of the room disappear when she dances.  Earthy, fluid, beautiful, powerful, grounded, unstinting, undeniable… that is how I would describe her in dance… all that and more.

And what inspired you to found Dance From The Heart? How did that come about?

I’ve spent a lifetime organizing events.  I don’t think I ever realized it until I had to start thinking about what all I had done. Just after the tsunami in 2005, a group of dancers around the US wanted to do something to help the survivors. We decided to use our talents to raise money for the relief effort. When doing so, questions would come up about how to do different things… how to write press releases, how to get logos, how to set up a website, how to get sponsors, etc. I was answering the majority of the questions, and willing to do a lot of work to get things moving… and I just happened to have the skills to do it. It was familiar territory.  Everyone kept saying, we need to make this a non-profit. So, I did the research and figured out what needed to be done. Once the initial event was finished, I was ready to keep going… no one else was.  I found two partners that were willing to split the start-up costs with me, and we put the application together. It was a TON of paperwork, but we managed to get it done.  We put our first full scale production on stage two years after the tsunami benefit. The biggest challenge is finding people that are willing to put more time and effort in than they’ll ever get back, and still do the work required to get the job done.

What’s happening with the company currently?

We are currently working on what I call Domari Deux.  I am restaging our 2011 production, ‘Domari’, after many requests for repeat performances.  I’m adding scenes we were unable to finish the first go ‘round, and making changes to choreography that I felt didn’t work. We are currently scheduled for six shows over the first two weekends in November of this year.  And then the next show I have in planning (for 2014) is a complete fantasy, unlike Domari, which was historical fiction. The concept name for the show is Ethereality, and is the story of elemental spirits mucking about in the lives of humans, and the mess that comes from it. It will be the most ambitious project to date, but it is likely to be the dancers’ favorite.

Has there been a moment you would describe as your first “big break”?

Not yet. It seems so close, I can almost taste it.  We’re working SO hard, and the signs are there. It’s so maddening when people say things like, “What you are doing is different than anything I‘ve seen, and it’s wonderful.” I say that, because:  while those comments are so hugely appreciated and are the lifeblood that validates what we’re doing, we constantly wonder how to get that message to the people that have the ability to help us get to the next level.

It’s so tough for any arts organization to break through. There’s a lot of competition for patron attention and dollars these days.

For a non-profit, the bottom line is always funding the vision. Quality isn’t cheap. We want to succeed artistically, but we also have a philanthropic mission driven by our productions – we want to make an impact… to be a significant contributor to our beneficiaries. The non-profit is currently full of volunteers that work their asses off simply for the joy of creating, and to help those that we select as our beneficiaries. I work a full time job in technology (and most of us do work in the business sector full time on top of this). I do this because I believe in it, because I want to make a difference, and because I have more fun with these people than anywhere else outside of my relationship with my Favorite Man. All of the performers and technicians involved in this donate their time and talent to these performances and rehearsals.

Anne in rehearsal
Anne in rehearsal

Okay, so let’s talk about your process a little bit. What inspires you to create?

Music – it’s always about the music for me.  The music creates the story in my brain, and they both drive the movement that tells the story.

I agree completely. So much of what I do is driven by music as well, which I love. Once the music starts happening, what’s next? How does that unfold?

I often create alone. Choreography happens in odd places – the car, at home by the computer, in the studio… sometimes in the bloody grocery store.  What I’ve discovered in the last two years is how much I enjoy collaboration, when the mix of collaborators is just right.  I brought in an Artistic Director (Kim Piwetz) in 2011.  I create the vision, she helps implement it.

Kim and I, though she is about 17 years younger than me, seem to be on the same twisted wavelength.  We get together in a studio and first discuss the concept of the piece.  I’ll play the music for her and describe the story that I see evolving from the musical theme.  Next, we start documenting so that we don’t forget any of our brilliant ideas.  We listen to the music again and I go through moments of specific action/movement I have in my head while she notes those points on her snazzy Alienware laptop, over which I have geek envy.

Once we get through the song and I’ve given her the outline, we focus on the movement vocabulary I’ve already set.  I teach her what I have already worked out, let her know where I am not happy with my choices, or have ideas for something that I haven’t pinpointed yet.  That’s where the fun begins. We start breaking down the areas where I’m looking for improvement, and essentially play around with movement until something clicks.  Our dance backgrounds are similar, but have strong enough differences that we both know things the other doesn’t, making the creative process also a learning one.  We definitely feed off of each other. One of us will start a section, the other will do something that blends, and between the two we come up with the final landscape. Once we have the movements mapped and noted, we run it over (and over and over) and fix whatever still doesn’t work.

I really enjoy this process with Kim.  She’s amazingly talented, intelligent, outspoken and keeps me laughing during stressful times with her completely inappropriate and utterly delightful sense of humor.  And, she keeps me in check (and the dance company) when I decide to not follow my own choreography.  I couldn’t have purposefully planned for a better “Second in Command” for the production side of this endeavor.  She has become one of my closest friends, and I wouldn’t want to do this without her.  She can’t ever leave.  I’ll handcuff her if I have to.   She knows.  Her husband approves.

Is there some part of the process you dislike for any reason?

My least favorite part of the choreographic process is the notation.  It’s difficult to put three dimensional movements on paper in a way that makes sense to everyone that has to use it.

Knowing that creating can also bring stress, how do you typically deal with those moments when things are going smoothly?

It depends… sometimes we just take a break.  My stress is usually in rehearsal, when working with 10 – 20 people (dancers, musicians, actors).  I try not to yell, though on occasion that has occurred when someone is talking instead of listening (which will piss me off faster than just about anything, and they know it).  When I’m seriously stressed, I tend to get quiet.  If my voice gets low, and I speak in very measured tones, the dancers that have been with me the longest know that it is time to be very, very good.  Mostly, I try to talk to those closest to me… those on my board that are in it with me and have an equal stake in the outcome.  I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful group of people to work with – we complement each other in skill and personality, and we seem to know when to vent and when to support while someone else is dealing with stress.

I hear you on the “when my voice gets low part”. I’m not a yeller either – it’s when I get quiet that people start scurrying. Okay, speaking of stress, though, has there been a time that you believe you failed or made a significant mistake?

Oh, goodness… I have made a lot of mistakes – it’s the most important part of the learning process.   I think that I have been fortunate that none have been so significant that my career was jeopardized.  However, each mistake, while different, came back to the same realization.  Surviving the mistakes has made me calmer, even though it also raises awareness of not making the same mistakes again.

And what have you learned from those mistakes?

Stay true to the vision, even when you feel uncertain and insecure about something that’s “outside the box”.  NEVER compromise on delivering the highest level of achievable quality.  If people are investing time in you, they are doing it for a reason – trust in that, and in your instincts.  You may fall flat on your face occasionally, but you have to in order to grow.

You mentioned earlier that you work in the technology. What’s your “day job”?

Call me Ms. Disaster Recovery.  I work for a large chemical company as their Disaster Recovery Manager.  I deal with business continuity and recovery of data centers after critical incidents occur (loss of the data center due to natural or manmade disasters).

Is it challenging to balance the demands of your career(s) with the responsibilities of family?

Absolutely. I want to do too many things at once. I want to be with my honey, Paul, but I would also like to be at the studio taking a class or working on this next bit of choreography. And then there are rehearsals as we get closer to show time. When I do have actual time off, Paul and I love to try new restaurants, catch a movie, go out and spend time with his parents in the country, or just stay at home and read.  Our library is extensive, and it’s a hobby all on its own, I suppose. I’ve TRIED to get Paul to start dancing, but trust me; he isn’t having any of it.

Knowing Paul as well, I have to thank you for the mental visual on that… Going back to technology, I’m wondering what technologies you employ to be creative?

The Adobe suite helps a lot – I can edit music with Soundbooth, map out choreography movement in Photoshop, we can do our own video editing with Vegas Pro.  My Sony HD video camera allows me to record rehearsals and publish the footage privately on YouTube for dancers to use as a learning tool outside of our studio time.  It also gives me a way to understand where the weak spots are for everyone, which I can’t always see while I’m leading the rehearsal and teaching.  While these things speak to efficiency, they also speak to a new approach for our process, that we didn’t have the ability to utilize even 10 years ago because of the price point.  In addition, we can now use projected backdrops instead of going through the time and expense of having them painted.  For the next two years, I have an artist friend that will create digital images for projection.  It takes him less time to create on his digital drawing tablet and costs us all far less from a materials perspective.  We have technical concerns with regard to shadows, but we’re working through that in our new venue with more modern technology capabilities.

Very cool. Alright I have a few wrap-up questions for you. Out of your career achievements thus far, which are you the most proud of?

It would have to be the staging of ‘Domari’ in 2011.  It was such a huge risk, and it was the make it/break it point for Dance from the Heart.  I am so grateful that the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Anne on stage
Anne on stage

Aside from your creative field, what else are you passionate about?

Patient advocacy, caregivers and how to provide help to those that sacrifice time from their own lives to care for someone else.

What sort of activities/hobbies outside of your career interest you?

Cooking – it was a business for a while, and I still cater for some friends on occasion.  Though I don’t play much anymore, music is still a big interest – just in a different way.

What life lessons has your work life taught you?

Push your boundaries, don’t settle for less than you think is right, don’t make snap judgments without a conversation first, and don’t panic when your past catches up to you – it’s not always a bad thing!

Where do you see multi-cultural dance in ten years?

With the ever increasing Western influence on Middle Eastern Dance, I see the fusion continuing and the art form being more theatricized (I just made that word up, thank you).  There will always be cultural purists (with whom I have no argument – I started that way, and continue to be true to the cultural roots of the dance when the performance calls for it), but the need to express beyond one movement vocabulary is increasing, not decreasing.  The fusionists are still testing the boundaries, so we’re going to see some really interesting things come in the next ten years.

What qualities should someone possess to be successful in your line of work?

Beyond skillset…for my job specifically, I would say a strong desire to help others… to make a difference; the ability to share what you are passionate about openly; to build relationships with a wide variety of people; and the desire to work very hard for an uncertain return, because you love what you do… not because you will become rich doing it.

What do you feel you have to offer those who will come after you in the way of advice?

I would say the same thing to them that my mother said to me.  You can be anything you want, and do anything you desire if you apply yourself.

Thanks to Anne for an in-depth look into her creative life. To learn more about Dance From The Heart, click on the image below.