I interviewed John Munger, Karen Sherman, and Carl Flink for a story in the July-August issue of Walker magazine. Their insights about the state of dance both locally and nationally were so astute that we’re publishing them in full here on the blogs.
First up is John Munger; we’ll follow with Karen Sherman and Carl Flink.
Munger is a locally based dancer who has, as he says, “been observing the field for 20 years or more, depending on how you look at my job descriptions.” One of those jobs is to create statistical portraits of dance – performers, companies, venues, performances, genres, etc. – both locally and nationally, in his role as director of research and information for Dance USA, a Washington, D.C.-based service organization. Click here for a full bio.
“When my first wife and I were dancing in Colorado and decided to move to a bigger pond, we looked around the country and thought the Twin Cities had a lot of promise. We moved here in 1978. So I’ve been here 31 years and part of the reason I stayed, aside from quality of life and things like that, is because as I’ve been here, the arts and dance communities have fulfilled that promise we saw when we were kids-it’s fulfilled it richly.
My succinct take on the evolution of the dance community here is: During the 1970s, there was an era of a handful of major companies. From about 1980 to 1995 or 1996, there was an era of enormous growth that was based on the efforts of individual choreographers here at home. And for the last 12 yrs or so, that model has grown into larger companies and greater national presence.
There are clearly two major dance centers in America, New York and San Francisco. After those, depending on whom you talk with, about 6 or 8 other cities are named as being among the four most significant, after those centers-including Chicago, the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Seattle, Los Angeles, and greater Washington, D.C.
These cities are not necessarily in competition with each other; rather, they’re all different from each other — we’ve determined this through research. We can quantify ways in which best practices from one community will not translate to another, because these places are genuinely, uniquely different.
And while the Twin Cities are in that group, quite frankly, the hardest message I’ve had to communicate in my 30 years living here is to tell media and the general public that this is one of the key dance communities in the country. It is the most diverse among those secondary those cities, and compact as well-and that is a unique construction.
For example, Seattle has basically 3 categories of dance companies, including a ballet company of major size. We don’t have a $6-million budget flagship ballet company in the Cities, but we do have about 10 categories of dance among our more than 200 companies. There are about 14 companies with budgets over $100,000 (up to $1 million) — including James Sewell Ballet, Ragamala Dance Theater, Shapiro & Smith Dance, Ballet of the Dolls, Zenon Dance Company. There’s also percussive footwork companies, there’s Indian dance. There’s Ethnic Dance Theater. Eastern European/Western Russian dance, classical and contemporary ballet. All these companies have budgets over $100,000.
Not one other city in the country matches our per-capita distribution of companies that size. Chicago actually has about 17 such companies, but their total population is two-and-a-half times our size. We also have more solidly established mid-sized companies in this city, on a per-capita basis, than anywhere else in the U.S. except New York City, which has about 37 mid-sized companies.
That is part of what makes us compact yet varied. We also have variations in age, with highly visible choreographers in their 20s and 30s, 40s, 50s, and even a few in their 60s. We have companies that have been around for 30, 20, and 10 year, as well as those recently formed. We have major mid-level and small upstart organizations working in ballet, in modern, in culturally specific dance, in percussive forms, experimental forms-all of them. We have over 50 nationalities and cultures represented through dance in these cities, and all of this is compressed into a community of about 3.5 million people. If you know where everybody is, you can go see any of them. Whereas in, say, San Francisco, or Brooklyn, those numbers are overwhelming.
This whole picture in the Twin Cities — ages of choreographers, degrees of experience, sizes and duration of companies, dance genres — all of that is richly represented. And that is what brought me here. I’m still here, delighted to be here, it’s a terribly exciting place to be involved with dance.”