By Shiloh Hodges
Working outside of the United States holds an enormous catalogue of benefits for American artists and our country: increased visibility; expanded marketplaces; enrichment of the art form through global exposure; decreased insularity; plus the more elusive contribution that dance enhances public diplomacy between our country and the world. Many dance organizations are eager to show their work abroad but lack the knowledge and resources to make it happen.
Many international programmers unfamiliar with the U.S. dance scene expect travel costs to be covered by the U.S. government, since many other countries cover the travel of their performing artists on tour. The cost of international travel is prohibitively expensive making lack of subsidized travel the number-one hindrance facing U.S. dance, yet obstacles to cultural exchange for U.S. dance organizations extend far deeper than a lack of funding. The U.S. government’s lack of a proper infrastructure to adequately support the arts is matched by many philanthropic institutions that are often reluctant to support projects and activities beyond their own communities or outside U.S. borders. The U.S. government’s lack of a proper infrastructure to adequately support the arts is matched by many philanthropic institutions that are often reluctant to support projects and activities beyond their own communities or outside U.S. borders.
In response to these difficulties and the decline in international touring for U.S. dance over the past three decades, Andrea Snyder (former executive director of Dance/USA) and Carolelinda Dickey launched American Dance Abroad in 2011 as an initiative to expand opportunities for equitable cultural engagement between American dance artists and companies and their international counterparts.
Through America Dance Abroad, Dickey and Snyder focus on three priorities:
- access and opportunities;
- financial support; and
- information and training.
Access and opportunities begin with a person-to-person connection. It is essential that international programmers see American dance in live performance and that they get to know choreographers as people. American Dance Abroad coordinates American Dance Recon, a symposium that hosts 8 to 10 international presenters in major U.S. cities for five days. ADR presents a slice of the dance scene in that city through open rehearsals, performances, a Town Hall with the local dance community, and meetings with local U.S. presenters. ADR ensures that U.S. dance gets seen live, rather than on a bad quality, small screen. (Who hasn’t waited for what seemed like years for Vimeo to load? Some countries do not have access to certain video sharing sites like Vimeo, therefore, their presenters may be blocked from seeing American work online.) Conversely, American Dance Abroad brings U.S. choreographers, managers, and agents to international marketplaces, platforms, and festivals for networking, showcases, and teaching. The hope is that these connections lead to residencies, performances, or other international opportunities a year or two later (and, in fact, we have confirmation that this has happened since American Dance Abroad launched these opportunities.) Building relationships lays the essential groundwork leading to successful international exchange.
International touring is expensive, and lack of financial support cripples the efforts of American companies. Without government support, with many funders unwilling to support international travel, and with most dance companies continually struggling financially, American dance companies naturally try to pass on the burden of expensive travel, housing, per diem, and artist fees to the international presenters. Unfortunately, this practice of all-inclusive fees has led to the belief that all U.S. companies are prohibitively expensive.
Similarly, U.S. dance companies tend to work on a 12-18 month timeline, while most international programmers work on much shorter timelines. It is more common than one would think, but invitations to perform abroad are often declined or withdrawn because American companies cannot scramble for funds fast enough to respond to programmers’ invitations. In an attempt to break this cycle, American Dance Abroad launched Rapid Response in January 2014 providing quick-turnaround seed funding to artists who receive international invitations to perform, teach, collaborate, set work, or be in residence.
While funding for tours from the U.S. Department of State and BAM’s DanceMotion USA or festival funding through USArtists International is fabulous when it can be had, program-based funding is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of international dance exchange that should and could be taking place. For smaller companies, modest amounts of subsidized funding (ranging from $2,000 to $5,000) can help bring the cost of international touring closer to the cost of domestic touring. For larger companies that are able to create sustainable tours, but still struggle to expand their networks, American Dance Abroad may invite (and sometimes host) presenters from a region to international performances of American companies. American Dance Abroad’s growing database of international contacts is key to connecting all the pieces of the puzzle.
The last area of need, information and training, may be the most important to fill if the U.S. is to spark more productive international exchange. Lack of knowledge -- on both American and international ends -- remains a serious obstacle to collaboration. Knowing who’s who on the international scene and having access to good contact information provides a vital “big picture” resource for U.S. dance organizations. Likewise, smaller details cannot be allowed to fall through the cracks either. Did you know that Americans are known for having the longest, most terrifying tech riders? Do you know which countries in the European Union do not accept the Euro? Or, which have their own currency, but also accept the Euro? Better business skills, including an understanding of cultural mores and a working knowledge of foreign visa requirements, taxation regulations, health insurance, and music royalties, are necessary as well. International touring does not just mean touring with a passport; every aspect of the trip should be considered carefully before embarking.
As an artist working in the U.S., what should you do to expand your international network? The first step is simple: do your research. Know why you want to go overseas: is a country’s dance community a good market for your work? Is there a collaboration involved? Getting your work abroad is the first step, not the end goal. Rigorously research the programmers and venues before you contact them or respond to an inquiry; make sure your aesthetic and artistry aligns with that of the venue. American Dance Abroad routinely distributes cases with DVDs of individual U.S. companies to international programmers. It is an ongoing service we provide, but it is only as good as the DVDs American companies provide, so send them in.
Understand that working internationally is a multilayered process -- the more connections you make, the easier it gets. American Dance Abroad takes selected artists and managers to international marketplaces and festivals as a means to expand their personal global networks. When the opportunity arises, American Dance Abroad holds workshops/training sessions at conferences and is always available for resources and advice. Before packing your suitcase for an international tour, seek advice from and partner with organizations like American Dance Abroad as well as Dance/USA, Arts Presenters, the National Performance Network, New York Live Arts’ Suitcase Fund, and regional arts organizations with useful foreign contacts and resources for a smoother, more informed experience.
American Dance Abroad’s goals are simple: to connect U.S. artists to their international colleagues; to encourage more international engagements; and to make those engagements successful by orchestrating productive relationships. Through American Dance Abroad’s work over the past three years, artists and companies have had successful performances or residencies across the globe, including in Warsaw, Skopje, Paris, Cape Town, Seoul, Beijing, Athens, Berlin, Stockholm, Taiwan, Brisbane, Mexico City, Santiago, and many more. The obstacles to cultural exchange are high, but not insurmountable. Through in-depth planning, strategic funding, training, and relationship building, American artists can and will find the right global partnerships and audiences for their work.
Shiloh Hodges joined American Dance Abroad in July 2013 as its program coordinator and first full-time staff member. She also dances with Lauren Slone/Empty Nave Projects and as an apprentice with Sidra Bell Dance New York. Originally from Florida, Shiloh earned her BFA in dance with honors from Florida State University in December 2012. In her time there she had the opportunity to study abroad in France and travel through Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, which sparked her interest in international affairs. www.visceralcartography.com.
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