What is dance advocacy?
For many people, advocacy can be a scary, highly charged word. It may conjure up images of Washington, D.C. lobbyists and closed-door dealmaking. It can be a real turn-off, especially for people in the performing arts. But in reality, advocacy is about education. It is sharing the value of something with people who are in a position to positively impact it. The reality is that the performing arts, especially dance, are often misunderstood. As a result, performing artists, especially those who work in dance, often miss out when it comes to benefits like funding and resources. Therefore, it is our job as artists (dancers especially) to advocate for our art form. According to The Performing Arts Alliance, “Advocacy is about educating and informing elected officials, the public, and the media about the importance of the performing arts.”
Some kinds of dance advocacy do take place in the halls of government and involve some degree of lobbying. There is much more to advocacy, however! “Contrary to popular opinion, advocates are not necessarily high-paid, Washington lobbyists who hold Congress in one pocket and the President in the other. In fact, advocates are simply people who work to educate their communities about important issues,” as the American Association of Community Theatre affirms. There are many ways that we, as dancers, can advocate for dance and the performing arts – without ever stepping foot in a Capitol building!
This blog post features eight simple ways that dancers, choreographers, dance teachers, and dance enthusiasts can advocate for dance on a grassroots level. These ideas will help you communicate the value of dance to stakeholders in your community and beyond, while helping ensure that your local dance organizations thrive. These ideas can be used by anyone, including dance students, because as Americans for the Arts states, “Anyone can advocate for the arts and have an impact.”
Simple ways to advocate for dance`
Join your local, state, and national Dance and Arts Service Organizations
Chances are your city or state has a non-profit membership organization for dance, dance education, or the arts in general. In Arizona, I belong to the Arizona Dance Coalition and the Arizona Dance Education Organization. There are also national organizations like Dance/U.S.A, Americans for the Arts, The International Association of Blacks in Dance, and the National Dance Education Organization. These organizations all offer individual member benefits, but the most important reason to join is that there is strength in numbers. Your local Dance Service Organization (DSO) is your representative in governmental and civic affairs. When you join a DSO, you align yourself with like-minded people who believe in the power and importance of dance in a civil, vibrant society. The organization can then go to Congress, or the state government, or your local city council and say, “Look at how many people believe in this. We are taking action, together, in support of the arts. Pay attention to us, because we are working together for our cause!” The membership dues help support advocacy efforts, marketing and publicity for the cause, and community engagement – in addition to nifty member benefits, which often include professional development, networking, research, etc. If you want help finding your local or state DSO, please comment on this article. I am happy to help!
Support your local dance community
It’s a little ironic to me that going to the theatre sometimes feels like a luxury that we, as artists, can’t afford. But, I am trying to change my thinking about that. Rather than thinking about a ticket to a dance concert as a treat for myself (which obviously it is!), I am trying to think of it as an investment in my dance community. I am supporting a cause I hold dear: The creation and sharing of dance work. The only way we can expect the general public to attend and support concert dance is to make a commitment to seeing it ourselves. Just by seeing a dance concert, taking a dance class, or participating in a social dance event, we are affirming to our communities that dance is valued and important here.
Support dance journalism
One of our biggest laments in the dance community is that the media does not cover enough dance. It’s hard to promote your event to the general public if it is not being covered by the local media. However, how many of us take the time to read and engage with the dance media that is published? Make it a point to read and comment on as many dance and arts articles in local and national publications as possible. This is another area in which we have to set the example – we can’t expect the general public (and therefore the editors of the papers catering to them) to care if we, the dance community, do not! By reading, commenting, and sharing, we let the publication’s staff know that we care about dance journalism!
Get in touch with your elected officials
If this one scares you, I get it. I hate, hate, hate confrontation. I also hate talking to almost anyone on the phone. BUT, this is important. We need to make our voices heard in support of the arts. Tweet, email, leave a voicemail, call, send a letter, sign a petition, schedule an appointment – but get in touch with the people who make the decision. Make your voice heard!
Continue to educate yourself
A little education can be a dangerously powerful thing! Commit yourself to furthering your education, formally and informally. Not only will continuing education help inspire and inform your work, but you will be better able to speak up on behalf of the arts. Your DSO should be able to offer professional development opportunities (and maybe even scholarships!). But don’t feel compelled to stick to your comfort zone – studying a different art form, or philosophy, literature, public policy, or whatever you choose to get into can greatly influence your personal creative practice and help you speak up for the arts in new ways.
Speak your truth with compassion
One of the biggest “selling points” of the arts is their capacity to foster empathy and compassion in their practitioners. In all things, we must practice these virtues. As Martin Luther King Jr., said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” As we fight for this cause we believe so deeply in, let us make respect, tolerance, and peace be our calling cards in all our conversation as artists.
Collaborate other dance artists
Let’s not lie; it can be competitive being an artist. There are limited opportunities, limited funds, limited audience members. We all want a piece of the pie, and if we are being totally honest we all want our egos validated. But again, there is strength in numbers. Make it a point to meet your fellow dance artists – even the director of the “other” studio down the street – and support them wholeheartedly. Take classes together, see shows, go to fundraisers, join Facebook groups. Make opportunities for one another, and take opportunities when offered to you. Get to know and love your local dance community.
Make your art, unapologetically, fearlessly, and with great love
Enough said. There is room for all of us here. Take a class, do a painting, join the church choir, make a dance in your living room. Whatever it takes. Let’s get to work.
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