A Journey through the NCCA’s Dance Audience Engagement Experiment
By Josy Jones
“Join a learning community of fellow Akronites and dive into the world of dance. The only prerequisite is curiosity.” To which I replied, “Ooh, I like to learn. I love Akron. And I love to dance. Oh my gosh, it’s free! Sign me up. Sign me up now!”
Welcome to Dance Club, a course offered by the National Center for Choreography – Akron (NCCA). Well, I’m calling it a course. It’s more of a social gathering designed to cultivate an explorative dance audience for people who are willing to experience the unfamiliar as well as build language to explore their opinions about dance. It’s fascinating.
The NCCA is one of only two in the United States. I’ll put that in perspective; France has 19. Yes nineteen. So, it’s a big deal that there is one here in Akron. It was created to “provide resources for dance makers to think, create and be inspired.” This program frames dance like science by providing a research lab for choreographers to experiment and discover.
Like many great initiatives, the course was born out of asking questions; specifically, questions about the presence of dance audiences. If there is no one there to experience the work of the dancers, how can they continue to foster new work? After having focus groups with other dance collectives around the country and conducting more research, Dance Club was born.
Early on, Christy Bolingbroke, Executive / Artistic Director of the NCCA, let us know what to expect. First, there are no dumb questions. Second, there are no right or wrong answers. She then moved on to explain to us that two audience members can have two different experiences, that dance is not always linear and does not always have a singular idea. She encouraged us to frame our opinions about a performance, not as good or bad, but as an exploration of our own feelings. She gave us tools, like the questions “What was satisfying for you?” and “What wasn’t satisfying?” and allowed us to apply them.
Mind you, Akron, all of that information was received through one class. For next class, we’ll be reading passages from a book called “Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer” by Liz Lerman. I can’t wait to see how it goes.
Let me be clear, Dance Club participants will not be dancing (although many of us aren’t opposed to the idea). Instead, I and the diverse group of people who applied for the class will be attending performances, having discussions, reading about dance, talking with artists and overall expanding our capacity and comfort in discussing dance performance.
Unfortunately, our diverse group will only be together formally four times from now until June and I will be reflecting on each gathering here in hope of spreading the knowledge and experience. Hopefully our experiences will build connections between the participants as well as those we are able to lure into the dance world.
Two last things. One, if you ever get the chance to see anything by Groundworks, do it. Two, watch this really interesting piece we talked about in Dance Club called “Throwaway” a dance by John Heginbotham (current resident choreographer at NCCA). It’s worth it.