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Focus on Dance Writing, Content Creation, and Audience Engagement

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This week All Is Not Lost, a new interactive dance / music video performed by members of the band OK GO and dancers from Pilobolus was released on YouTube for use in Google Chrome. The work gives viewers license to leave a comment in[side] the media piece and share it with others. Though this innovative messaging tool is not geared toward theoretical analysis, the exploration of technological dimensions and interactivity are certainly thought provoking. This engaging tool may also serve as a good exercise in encouraging people to write and share after seeing dance - a habit too few of us possess.

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This photo is a screen shot of the message I made using the 'All Is Not Lost' interactive.

Additionally, on Friday August 26th at the E. 86th St. Barnes and Noble NYC, dance writer Deborah Jowitt will moderate a discussion with artists Eiko Otake and Takashi Koma Otake, followed by a signing of the new comprehensive monograph Eiko & Koma: Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty. The Walker Art Center has published this first book addressing Eiko & Koma's oeuvre, a 320-page catalogue includes scholarly essays, an interview, and an illustrated and complete "catalogue of works" detailing each of their projects to date accompanied by reprints of primary materials; short essays on specific works; and a bibliography.

As evidenced by the publication of this monograph, dance writing is still a celebrated practice vital to the dance world. However, many anxieties surround the future of dance journalism, dance criticism, and, for that matter, the overarching practice of arts writing. As Rainey Knudson wrote on the NEA's blog, Art Works,

the NEA's Joan Shigekawa and the Knight Foundation's Dennis Scholl cite a study that found that 50 percent of local arts journalism jobs have been lost in the past five to eight years. It's a shocking number, but in addition to spurring us all to action, it should also politely beg the question of how vital those critics were if their jobs (and their papers) wilted so suddenly.

The Knight Foundation, in conjunction with the NEA, are facing the issue of arts writing head-on. The Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge is now (through August 18th) taking proposals for funds designated for programs that encourage and promote arts journalism. With the launch of this initiative, and in the face of numerous defunct print publications, the questions (or problem) that comes to mind is: where will arts journalism subsist, and where is the active audience these new arts journalists are supposed to reach?

Many may point to the Internet. Yet, in cruising dance blogs and e-journals, presumably the proposed new territory for writers to inhabit, one may find the comment boxes empty. Though it may come as a surprise, this directly translates into the perceived value of these blogs to the editors of major media outlets. We can say that quality writing attracts readers. However, outward expression of an article's popularity - meaning the number of 'likes', 'shares', comments, tweets, etc. - is what matters most to editors and to Google analytics. This translates to attracting more readers and advertisers, and ultimately to the survival of the media platform. It seems that simply creating more online writing opportunities and / or paying arts writers well will not solve the larger problem.

When considering this phenomenon, it is also important to recognize that reviews are still a major part of why people buy tickets to dance events. This was discussed in a presentation of the Engaging Dance Audiences study, conducted by WolfBrown, at the recent Dance USA Annual Conference, serves as a reminder that print reviews are not yet obsolete. Additionally, dance makers need to be written about to be on the radar for funders, supporters, and policy makers.

Perhaps then, teaching dance-lovers the importance of entering the conversation may be a better project to undertake. Dance writing, whether it appears online or in print, begs a response from the community. With the advent of new media, dancers, choreographers, and dance enthusiasts have more opportunities than ever to share thoughts and opinions and so sustain their field.

*This piece was written in collaboration with Hannah Krafcik.