The 2020 Dance Magazine Awards Celebrated Outstanding Talent, Leadership & Joy

Thank you for celebrating this year's incredible Dance Magazine Award honorees with us. Watch on demand here.

As this year like none other finally draws to a close, I've noticed a familiar sentiment popping up: Everything that we've lost since COVID-19 hit has made many of us that much more appreciative of all that we have. For me, I might have felt this most potently with the Dance Magazine Awards.

Putting together our ceremony amid the unique turmoil of 2020—and the deep reflections it's inspired—forced us to take a fresh look at not only how we do this, but why. And it comes down to this: The Dance Magazine Awards are about celebrating the icons among us, declaring that these are our living legends whose work we are honored to experience in our own lifetimes.

This year, the selection committee decided to make a statement with whom we chose to name as those legends. Selecting all Black honorees was meant to reckon with Dance Magazine's history of awarding primarily white artists over the past seven decades. At the same time, this lineup has also served to highlight the undeniable influence Black dance artists have had on this art form. "All of us together makes a statement of where we are today in the dance world," said Debbie Allen in her acceptance speech.

For me, as I gathered all the videos and speeches leading up to the event, and watched each draft come together in the careful hands of Nel Shelby Productions, I got a chance to really look at how much this year's honorees have enriched our field.

I remain in awe of the poetic and elegantly gooey movement of the "philosopher king" Alonzo King; the bold creativity Laurieann Gibson brings to pop stars and TV shows; the boundary-bending storytelling of Camille A. Brown; the physical brilliance and innovative ideas of Carlos Acosta; the iconic inspiration of Debbie Allen; the way Chairman's Award recipient Darren Walker has reshaped the Ford Foundation's philanthropy with an eye to social justice; and the indeed promising choreographic talent of Harkness Promise Award recipients Marjani Forté-Saunders and Kyle Marshall.

Although we were unable to gather in person to celebrate this incredible group, in a gleeful plot twist, holding our ceremony virtually offered new possibilities. We were able to expand our reach of who participated and who was invited, including people who may not have been able to make it to a New York theater like in a traditional year. An exuberant live chat on YouTube took the place of our typical cocktail reception, with dancers, directors, presenters, writers and others virtually mingling and celebrating together in real time. We're now able to make the main ceremony available on demand for anyone who missed it live; you can purchase a pass to watch it on your own time here.

Going digital also allowed us—for the first time ever—to share toasts from several past honorees to this year's cohort in a special preshow celebration. In what was by far the most star-studded Zoom room I've been in during the pandemic, we got to hear personal stories about and well wishes to our 2020 awardees from people like Judith Jamison, Susan Stroman, Alessandra Ferri and many others.

And for an additional online bonus, we hosted a separate Zoom conversation earlier in the day with our two Harkness Promise Award recipients Marjani Forté-Saunders and Kyle Marshall, hearing about their work and what inspires them as engaged artist-citizens.

In his acceptance remarks, Darren Walker quoted Alvin Ailey: "Making dances is an act of progress; it is an act of growth, an act of music, an act of teaching, an act of celebration, an act of joy." Our honorees have proved that statement to be true over and over again.

I'd like to give a big thank you to our sponsors First Republic and Freed of London for helping to make the Dance Magazine Awards happen in these exceptional times. When so much of the dance field remains on hold, it's an honor to be able to lift up the greats among us.

Thank you for celebrating this year's incredible Dance Magazine Award honorees with us. Watch on demand here.

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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