The music scene commands so much attention when it comes to arts and entertainment in New Orleans that it can be easy for locals and tourists alike to overlook its vibrant dance community. Dancing Grounds, a socially conscious, dance-centered organization, seeks to change that. Currently, the group teaches dance classes in several public schools and offers a variety of adult dance classes (out of a speakeasy studio). More recently, Dancing Grounds founders Jessica Donley and Laura Stein held a community dance forum at Cafe Istanbul aimed at addressing the issues that hold back the city’s dance scene.
“I’ve had “Dancing Grounds” in my heart for some time,” explains Donley. “Its mission is to empower and rebuild New Orleans through the art of dance, unite and develop the New Orleans dance community, and celebrate the richness of Louisiana through its dance and music.” She continues: “Together, Laura and I had been tossing around ideas to strengthen the New Orleans dance community. We decided to have the community dance forum in June to open the conversation up to the community.”
Among the issues discussed that the well-attended forum were: increasing performance attendance, overcoming insufficient promotional opportunities, raising public awareness, fostering cohesion amongst industry professionals and venue owners, and the need to develop a dance-orientated online platform.
Donley and Stein have both danced professionally and taught dance on national and international levels, and collectively, they look to draw from their experiences as, in Donley’s words, “[They seek to] prepare the soil to grow New Orleans’ dance field.” Tied to the field’s development is the need for better equipped rehearsal and performance spaces. The hindrances wood and cement floors pose to dancers, particularly those involved in highly-technical, physically demanding performances, were one of the forum’s key discussion points. Further complicating the issue is an overall lack of adequately-sized venues open to hosting dance events.
Nevertheless, Dancing Grounds remains optimistic about the potential to strengthen the local dance community’s profile. “There is plenty of work to be done to raise the community’s awareness for the importance of dance as a vital part of New Orleans’ culture,” says Donley. “That challenge has been accepted by everyone who attended last month’s forum.”
Dancing Grounds’ next community forum is tentatively slated for September, but at this time, an official date and time has not been set. Yet, in an effort to bring dancers together as well to bring awareness to the community, Dancing Grounds is developing an online database to provide information on public performances, upcoming auditions, available rehearsal spaces, and various classes.
To stay informed or get involved with the New Orleans Dance community, visit Dancing Grounds’ website, and check them out on Facebook and Twitter.
Here’s a cool video of a recent flash mob Dancing Grounds members staged on Frenchmen Street.