Featured photo: A performance by Dance Project (photo by Brandi Scott)

This week, we talked with Anne Morris, the co-executive director of Dance Project, a nonprofit dance organization that was founded in the ’70’s and has been based in Greensboro since 1989. Dance Project will be hosting Wideman Davis Dance as part of their artist residency in Greensboro from Sept. 27-30. As part of the residency, the dance group will host many public events and performances. This year’s NC Dance Festival takes place Oct. 6-7 in Charlotte. Learn more about Dance Project at danceproject.org.

Tell me how the Dance Project is doing now, in the years after the pandemic.

Anne Morris

Dance Project in general, we’ve made it through the pandemic. We’re still operating our two major programs: the dance school at the Cultural Arts Center, which is for all ages, and the NC Dance Festival. Through each of those programs, we do community outreach programs, including a partnership with Guilford County Schools.

For the Dance Festival, this is the second season after the pandemic that we’ve gone back into live performance. This year, we’re presenting work in Charlotte at Goodyear Arts, an old warehouse transformed into an art gallery and performance space.

Last year was the first year that we started taking live performances to other cities. In 2021, we celebrated our 30th anniversary. So we’re slowly bringing back the live pieces of our season and we’re thinking of them in different ways than we were pre-pandemic. So instead of bringing the same group of artists from city to city, we’re really programming each event as a standalone experience. And we’re thinking really hard about how to be very inclusive of different kinds of dance work and different artists and different exp for the audiences. Many of the things we’ve been planning are designed to bring people up close and personal to dance.

Dance Project trio (photo by Brandi Scott)

Tell me about what you’re doing this season.

This season is really characterized by partnership and collaboration. So we’re bringing lots of community partners into our work as we plan seven different events with them while they are in town. Wideman Davis Dance will be our guest artist for several residency activities here in Greensboro from Sept. 27-30. They’re based out of Columbia, SC, but currently living in Alabama.

Dancers Tanya Wideman-Davis and Thaddeus Davis performing the piece “Spacializing Blackness.” (photo by Thomas Brenner)

Most of what the Dance Festival does is it features work of NC artists, and as we were talking several years ago, we started really thinking about the value of bringing in perspectives from outside of the state to provide more connections to statewide artists. We started thinking about who might be a really engaging group to bring in. When I found Wideman Davis Dance, I was taken by the ways they were working with the community and thinking about their work as an extension of that community. They are inseparable from their work in community.

Tell me more about their work.

They are such incredible artists and people who think about connecting their work to communities, especially southern Black communities, in creative ways.

We started a conversation with them several years ago and spent years seeking funding. We were having conversations about what it might look like to have them here. As we settled on a project, one of the things that has felt really important to me is really highlighting voices that are sometimes left out of the conversation in terms of art making and representation, but also in our daily civic lives.

Dancers Tanya Wideman-Davis and Thaddeus Davis performing the piece “Spacializing Blackness.” (photo by Thomas Brenner)

Wideman Davis Art really illuminates how art and culture is inseparable from the rest of how we live our lives. They really use art to build community to talk about citizenship, to talk about who is in the room, whose voices are being heard and that felt like an important conversation to bring to Greensboro.

What events will Wideman Davis Dance be hosting as part of their residency?

During the Wideman Davis Dance residency, there will be workshops on university campuses. We’re working with NC A&T State University and their dance department as well.

We are also engaging with a group of senior citizens who will be meeting with the college students to bridge generational gaps. 

They’ll do a dance technique class in our studio; they’ll be offering local workshops for local professional artists that dig into how to connect your art practice to community or how it’s already doing that, and getting it closer to community.

Wideman Davis Dance will also be using their current artistic work and be screening a dance film, “We Dance,” that has themes that run through that film like family, memory, food and migration. One of the things that I’m looking forward to about this program is it expands beyond dance. The film screening is not just for people who care about dance or dancers, it has a broad appeal because of the subject matter.

They’ll have a conversation afterwards about themes in the film. It’s not an artist talk back, it’s a full community conversation. They were really clear with me and said, ‘This is not a time where they’re the experts, everybody can speak from their own experience and are invited to bring their lived experience into the conversation.’

I appreciate that as a white-led organization you’re bringing in a Black-led dance group that is very intentional about race and community. What sorts of conversations has NC Dance had especially in the aftermath of the 2020 Uprisings to be intentional when it comes to inclusion?

We’ve informally and internally had conversations along these lines for many years. I would say right before the pandemic we started formalizing those conversations a little bit more. There was a committee that was part of our board, which is where the equity work started, like putting language to the values that we were using in our work already.

We conducted surveys of our stakeholders to find out where we could be doing things better, we were working on incorporating that feedback into ways we’re communicating and the kinds of programming we’re offering.

A performance by Dance Project (photo by Brandi Scott)

With the dance festival specifically, we heard the feedback that it was sometimes perceived as a closed system. Like the same artists were being featured throughout the years in general and that there was some confusion about how to apply or who was eligible to apply. Obviously from that feedback, there was room to grow. We started being intentional about the ways we were putting out our call for artists, the materials we were using, dancers featured on our website, to make it clear that our intention was that the dance festival is for all artists in NC, not just certain segments of that population.

How does this idea of collaboration play into that?

Collaboration has always been a big part of what we do, both with internal and external partners.

It’s definitely become a more prominent way that we think about our programming partly because this is a way that our culture is starting to really talk about it. Within many industries, but certainly within arts and dance, art forms can get really siloed, especially coming out of the pandemic where everyone is trying to re-emerge. We wanted to make sure we can still stay active and serve the people that we want to serve, so it has made sense to join forces in those efforts.

It’s about making sure that we are being inclusive in what we’re doing and part of that is working collaboratively.

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