A Modern Dancer's Guide to.....New Orleans, LA
The New Orleans dance community has seen a lot of change since Katrina, thanks in part to the community-building efforts of the native dancers and to the influx of new residents who have brought fresh energy and interests to the scene. The only local “anchor institution” for dance is the New Orleans Ballet Association, whose mission encompasses education and dance presentation; there is no full-time professional concert dance company in the entire state of Louisiana. This lack can be a source of frustration to the local dancers but also serves to galvanize the community to share resources and make work on their own terms.
Known Mass preview at daMata Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine studio, May 2014. Dancers pictured (left to right): Coco Loupe, Gretchen Erickson, Melissa Erin Strain, Monica Mata Gilliam, and Marion Spencer.
Photo by Vanessa Duivenvoorde-Job
How to begin:
The New Orleans Dance Network is a brand-new creation, developed from blogs run by two NOLA natives that tracked drop-in and master classes, performances, auditions, workshops, studio space rentals, and community events. The site went live in April 2015; if you visit noladancenetwork.org you can sign up for the weekly mailing list, which is a fairly thorough look at what’s coming up dancewise in the city. NODN also hosts community-building events; the end goal is for NODN to be both an online resource and a network of dancers and dance-makers who track the needs of the community and determine how best to meet those needs.
Also worth visiting—online and in person—is Dancing Grounds, which grew from a living-room dance studio offering hip hop and contemporary classes to a brick-and-mortar community dance center with two studio spaces (available for rent), a healthy roster of adult classes, an artist-in-residence program supporting contemporary dance, a regular source of master classes (mostly contemporary), and more community-building events (including in-studio performances, contact jams, and film screenings) than you could shake a proverbial stick at. For the adult contemporary dancers in New Orleans, DG is the hub. Get on the mailing list (dancingrounds.org) and also stop in to say hello and pick up a schedule.
Where to train:
For a one-stop listing of weekly classes, visit the New Orleans Dance Network website.
Up until recently, the available classes in New Orleans skewed classical (including classical modern forms). Here are some steady class sources for the contemporary dancer:
Dancing Grounds: including contemporary, contact improv, gyrokinesis, queer-friendly pilates, yoga
Live Oak Dance: contemporary class taught by a local dancer recently returned home from Ailey II
Good Dance Since 1984: company class (contemporary) at 1128 Dublin St
Mélange Dance Company: classes (contemporary and modern)
The New Orleans Ballet Association typically hosts free weekly community classes for adults in Horton and ballet; the ballet class (advanced/pro, taught by Donald Williams, former principal at Dance Theatre of Harlem) is sometimes swapped out for a free modern/contemporary master class with touring companies being presented by NOBA. This spring, master classes were taught by company members from Black Grace, Parsons, and Limón.
For those of us who like to keep up our ballet game, the best bets (and the best floors) are at the Schramel Conservatory of Dance and Live Oak Dance. Both studios have a healthy adult community and they are the studios of choice for visiting ballet pros. So while you will always be taking class with some younger students, you’ll also be in class with the friendly full-grown advanced/pro dancers.
Where to rehearse:
Dancing Grounds and NOLA Spaces are easy to rent; DG is open to work-trade and NOLA Spaces has a renter membership program that can help mitigate the high cost of hourly rates. There is a brand-new studio opening up in the Broadmoor Arts & Wellness Center that we’re all very interested in checking out. Other studios for rent (sizes vary):Rhythmic Arts Center and Crescent Lotus.
How dancers get performing gigs:
Method #1: Show up for class. Anyone teaching contemporary class in New Orleans is also choreographing; see open company classes above. Also feel free to reach out to any choreographers you’re interested in meeting (via website, Facebook, in person). It’s a small community, and we are thrilled to meet new dancers.
Method #2: Show up for class. Make friends with the other dancers. Because the scene is so driven by DIY dance-making, it’s typical for choreographers to cast upcoming projects with the dancers they already know and trust to be friendly, diligent, and professional. Make yourself known.
Method #3: Audition. In the past couple months, open auditions were held by KM Dance Project, Mélange Dance Company, and the Marigny Opera Ballet. Good Dance Since 1984 also holds auditions on a semi-regular basis.
Opportunities for emerging choreographers:
In terms of formal opportunities, the Contemporary Arts Center hosts a new artist-in-residence project called The Distillery; for both 2014 and 2015, choreographers have been selected for residency. Dancing Grounds currently hosts two choreographers for their artist-in-residence program, both of whom have year-long access to free rehearsal space and the opportunity to present their work at Dancing Grounds. Dancing Grounds also hosts monthly events on second Saturdays for choreographers to share works in progress. Informally, most emerging choreographers make their own opportunities to develop and present work. The New Orleans Dance Network has established a working group to determine ways the community can support emerging choreographers and companies.
Dancing Grounds hosted a Dance for Social Change festival last year that is likely to be repeated in 2015. D’Project hosts an annual showcase for the adult dance community (all genres, includes adult lay dancers) called Southern Voices: Dance Out Loud. Local theater production company New Noise puts on an annual festival called Sound/Off for performing artists (including dance artists) to present works in progress.
Venues where out-of-town artists perform and organizations that present them:
Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans
Mahalia Jackson Theater (presented by the New Orleans Ballet Association)
Zeitgeist (particularly for dance work integrating film)
Marigny Opera House
Opportunities to teach dance, the amount of work in the area, and ages and settings for teaching:
There is no shortage of dance studios looking for teachers in the Greater New Orleans area (encompassing Kenner, Metairie, New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, the West Bank, and the Northshore). Most of these studios are looking for teachers in every genre but contemporary; however, some studios are starting to invest in contemporary teachers as well. Typically at a studio you’ll be teaching younger dancers.
Institutions with sought-after salaried teaching jobs include Lusher Charter School (K-12), the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (high school), and Tulane University. Classes are taught in a studio setting.
Those interested in a part-time teaching-artist position (in-school and after-school programming for K-12, hourly pay, no guarantee of a traditional studio setting) should contact KIDsmART, the New Orleans Ballet Association, Young Audiences, and Community Works.
Local colleges and universities with undergraduate and graduate programs:
Tulane University has a BFA program that skews toward modern/contemporary; they are debuting an interdisciplinary MFA program in 2015-2016. Loyola University has a BA program with a ballet minor.
The dance community in New Orleans has deep roots and a long history, and many of the local dancers are enjoying a sense of fresh momentum in terms of the community joining forces and sharing resources. We are eager to take classes with visiting artists who have knowledge to share, and dancers/dance-makers who move to the city will find the scene accommodating to whatever new energy and movement language they bring.
Ann Glaviano is a writer, editor, dance-maker, and native New Orleanian. She received an MFA in fiction with an interdisciplinary minor in dance from Ohio State in 2013; upon her return home, Ann initiated a collaborative music-and-dance project called Known Mass, aesthetically motivated by devised theatre and DIY punk traditions. She hosts contact improv jams through Known Mass and helps facilitate the Contact Improv New Orleans group. Most recently she has served as the dance facilitator and lead chorus member for a production of Euripides’s The Bakkhai (presented at the Marigny Opera House in June 2015). Other recent performance credits include productions by Lightwire Theater, New Orleans Ballet Theatre, New Orleans Opera Association, and Short North Stage.