Tapping into city art scene

Local ensembles offering free workshops, shows have toiled to make Baltimore a better place for dance

November 16, 2006|By Brooke Nevils | Brooke Nevils,sun reporter

Baltimore is getting on its feet.

And according to Cheryl Goodman, founder and director of Dance Baltimore, and Iantha Tucker, director of Morgan State University's Modern Dance Ensemble, it's about time.

"We're inundating the area with dance this week," says Tucker, referring to the collaboration between the Dorothy P. Stanley Dance Scholarship Festival, celebrating its 30th year at Morgan State, and Dance Baltimore, now in its fourth year.

The two events offer a week of dance performances and workshops targeting students, professionals and the general public, including appearances by dance troupes from across the region and popular workshops in classical ballet, hip-hop and East Indian and African dance.

But the events have been a long time in the making, beginning when the two women - both tirelessly dedicated to the growth of dance in Baltimore - found themselves asking why dance was so absent from the city's arts scene.

"That's a good question, one we've been asking for many, many a year," says Tucker, who is celebrating her 30th year at Morgan State. "Being right between New York and Washington, which both have really strong dance scenes, Baltimore hasn't really found its niche yet. But we're working on it."

Goodman, an arts consultant, developed Dance Baltimore as a result of a chance lunch conversation with Melissa Warlow of the Baltimore Community Foundation in 2003. "I started talking about dance - how much I love dance, how frustrating it is that I always have to go to D.C. to see anything because not a lot of dance comes to Baltimore," Goodman says. "I thought that we should really find a way to pull the dance community together, but we didn't have a place to do it."

Warlow immediately offered the conference space that enabled 45 members of the Baltimore dance community to meet and voice their concerns.

"Our goal was to identify a dance audience in Baltimore, because the general feeling was that there wasn't one," Goodman says. "A month or two after that, Melissa happened to be talking to the head of the Hippodrome Foundation, who offered us the Mechanic Theatre if we could put together a free show that could draw the 1,600 people we'd need to fill it. Everybody volunteered their time and services, and by two weeks before the show, we'd given out all 1,600 tickets."

That event - the first Dance Baltimore, a full day of workshops open to the general public followed by a performance that evening - convinced Goodman that there was enough of a dance audience in Baltimore to continue, especially after the Hippodrome Foundation offered the theater for an additional two years. The event is expanding to an even larger scale this year after receiving a Free Fall Baltimore grant from the city.

"Dance Baltimore has developed this great free day of dance, exposing people not only through classes and workshops but through performances, and it's been very successful," says Randi Vega, director of cultural affairs for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which awarded the Free Fall grant. "We felt that this was an exemplary opportunity to support an event that, while it has been incredibly successful, struggles to make ends meet and to provide the services that they do, and we wanted to be supportive of that."

Now in its fourth year, Dance Baltimore will be joining forces with the Dorothy P. Stanley Scholarship Fund Dance Festival at Morgan State's Murphy Fine Arts Center.

"I thought Dance Baltimore could bring another dimension to the festival," Tucker says. "We have similar audiences and overlapping purposes, and that's what made the collaboration an easy choice. For both of us, our goal is to reach the people in the area with dance - to grow and mature dance in Baltimore, and to become a cohesive dance community."

"The event showcases the best in dance in the area, so it's all styles of dance," Goodman says. "I'm always moved by how attentive the audience is, no matter what kind of dance it is. I've seen kids as young as 4 and adults as old as 60 taking hip-hop. It's inspiring."

brooke.nevils@baltsun.com

Dance Baltimore is Saturday at the Murphy Fine Arts Center, 2201 Argonne Drive. Workshops take place 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and a concert, which features the Sankofa Dance Theatre, Ballet Theatre of Maryland, Full Circle Dance Company, the Stephanie Powell Dance Ensemble and Kinetics Dance Theatre, begins at 7:30 p.m. All events are free and open to the public, but registration is required. Go to dancebaltimore.org or call 866-756-5673 for a complete schedule and to register. On Sunday at 4 p.m., the Morgan State University Modern Dance Ensemble will offer a free performance. Call 443-885-4440 for reservations or go to murphyfineartscenter.org for more information.

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