Dance/USA Conference : “What’s the Social Responsibility of Dance?”

As The Royal Ballet began its tour of the USA, the Dance/USA Conference was underway in Miami covering a wide range of dance issues and exploring interesting proposals. 

Social change, technology, fundraising and race were but a few of the topics on the agenda of the 7th Annual Dance/USA Conference. Dance/USA was founded in 1982 and is based out of Washington, D.C., serving as the national association for professional dance. 

“Dance is the soul of a community,” stated Ron Gordon, President of Be the Change, Inc., in the opening plenary session titled “Be the Change”. It was a running theme throughout the conference.

The conference attracted dance professionals from 31 states and 4 countries: Canada, China, United Kingdom and the United States. The attendees were a mixture of artistic directors, executive directors, dancers, choreographers and other members of the dance community.

Misty Copeland presents Dance/USA Award 

The conference began with an opening night Dance/USA Honors Celebration. The honorees included four strong women with great courage:

Trisha Brown, founding artistic director and choreographer of Trisha Brown Dance Company (New York)

Linda Shelton, executive director The Joyce Theater Foundation (New York)

Toby Lerner Ansin, founder of the Miami City Ballet

Raven Wilkinson, the first African-American woman to dance with a major classical ballet company. 

“Trisha, Linda, Raven and Toby are groundbreaking, influential leaders in our field,” stated Dance/USA Executive Director Amy Fitterer. “They have each broken the glass ceiling in a unique way. Each honoree is known for her powerful talent and vision. And they have all substantially impacted the world of professional dance.”

Raven Wilkinson was shown in a recorded interview (watch below) with Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer with American Ballet Theater. It was a powerful connection between the generations and it highlighted the achievements of two remarkable women.

Equity and inclusiveness 

A major component of the conference focused on equity and inclusiveness in the dance world, and especially racial equality in ballet companies. This topic was addressed in a session titled “Race and Dance Townhall-Real Talk: Shifting through the Soundbytes.” It was an informative discussion on what it means to be a person of color in the ballet world and how people of color are valued in the dance community. This was addressed in a series of panel discussions including financing of minority companies and the need to eliminate “regranting” whereby the same major companies receive funding year after year thus overlooking smaller companies.

Social Responsibly of Dance

“Social Responsibility of Dance” was a discussion filled with provocative questions and interesting proposals. How can dance be the catalyst for change? What’s needed for a community to be more inclusive? These were but a few of the questions posed. The proposals varied from educational outreach programs, to exposure of dance to all within a community. 

Kun-Yan Lin is a dancer and choreographer and was one of the participants in the “Social Responsibility of Dance” workshop. When asked what he got out of the session he stated, “It reinforced that what I am doing as an artist is important to the world; that dance is a critical catalyst for conversation that needs to happen and an essential medium for bridging differences.”

Kun-Yan Lin is currently working on a new piece titled HOME/S. 9th Street, “The piece is informed by the stories of migration as related to us through Story Circles of our neighbours who live and work in the multicultural neighborhood of South Philly (PA) where our dance center (CHI Movement Arts Center) is located.”


Dance/USA  did a wonderful job of providing opportunities for attendees to experience local dance events. As the participants packed to return home, Dance/USA was already getting ready for its 8th annual conference in Austin, Texas, where the conversation will continue.

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by Diana Dunbar