NEA Arts Magazine

Write-up

NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Dance

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A crowd of people sitting around a table listen to a man speak

Choreographer Doug Varone speaks to critics at the 2008 NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance. Photo by ADF/Sara D. Davis

The NEA's support for dance criticism is only a few years younger than the Arts Endowment's support for the art form itself. In 1970, the American Dance Festival (ADF) used an NEA grant to establish a summer critics institute that would run concurrently with the festival, then held in Connecticut and now sited at Duke University in North Carolina. In 2005, the institute was revived under the auspices of the Arts Endowment as the NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance. In many ways, little about the institute has changed. The principal goal remains to immerse journalists in the world of dance so they not only learn fundamentals but review world-class performances under the tutelage of master critics.

Charles Reinhart, who was instrumental in developing and coordinating both the NEA's Dance Touring Program and the dance component of the NEA's Artist-in-Schools program, has directed ADF since 1968. Shortly after he was appointed festival director, dance historian Selma Jeanne Cohen approached Reinhart with the idea for an extended critics seminar. Reinhart immediately approved the idea.

"With dance, you have a problem that you don't have in theater: that is, the nonverbal message that critics have to elucidate," Reinhart said. "The more that the critics know about dance, the better it's going to be for the dance world."

Dance historian Suzanne Carbonneau directs the present-day NEA institute, one of four the NEA has established to offer professional training for cultural journalists. Since 2004, nearly 300 journalists have attended the theater, music, and dance institutes. This summer, the NEA will add a visual arts institute, hosted by American University. Fellows chosen to attend the three-week dance institute take in master classes, seminars, and panel discussions. Every major choreographer who visits ADF holds an informal press conference with the journalists. In evenings, it's off to performances, then back to the Duke dormitories to write reviews. "There is so little downtime," Carbonneau said. "We go seven days a week, morning to night."

In 2009, the critics will see nearly a dozen companies perform, including Pilobolus, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and Shen Wei Dance Arts. And as has been required since the institute's early years, they will take movement classes led by professional dance teachers.

Margaret Fuhrer attended the institute in 2008 as a freelance writer affiliated with Dance Magazine. A few months later, she was hired by Dance Spirit magazine. Fuhrer believes attending the NEA institute helped her land a rare full-time job writing about dance. "The opportunity to be fully engaged in the dance world for three weeks was a rare and invaluable treat," she said. "Criticism shouldn't be a passive activity, but it too often is; it was refreshing to not just watch but to truly live dance at ADF."