The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

February 10, 2009

Community arts as as family?

I shouldn’t be writing now, and I certainly shouldn’t be blogging — I should be grading papers.  That will come, of course, because it has to.   The students are waiting and they are expecting.  Just like stories I’m writing on deadline or contests I plan to enter.  Those things get done because of external parameters.  Such is the life of the soldier with little self discipline.  It doesn’t torture me anymore.  It just is.  Self disciplined people have their own demons with which to do battle and those of us with less strident crickets precariously perched on our shoulders have ours.  We know our demons — we may not love them or appreciate them, but they’re ours, and we accept them.

Which brings me tenuously to a look at the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC.  Having lived in the SC midlands for over 20 years now and always been a patron of the arts, I’ve been watching the culture for a while.  Though I am a student of the literary arts, dance is the point of departure for much of the art culture that I know intimately.  Our daughters started out as students and one of them became a serious dancer, who danced principal parts as a student at NCSA, then was lured back to USC by a juicy scholarship and the opportunity to learn under Stacey Calvert.  One or both of our girls have danced at some time or another in almost every studio in the city, as serious dancers are likely to do.  Their studies have given me some insight into what happens beyond the studio door.

Which brings me back to the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC and the concept of family.

Columbia has recently enjoyed a dance-happy period of arts opportunities with performances coming steadily for four weeks in a row — Life Chance, then USC Dance Company’s American Treasures, William Starrett’s Off the Wall, and this week, for the rambunctious amongst us, Riverdance is performing  on the same stage as all of the above in the weeks before.  In about a month, we’ll also have the chance to see Simone Cuttino’s staging of the Wizard of Oz for Radenko Pavlovich, followed by William’s full length Don Quixote, then USC’s presentation of the Ballet Stars of the NYC Ballet, dancing along with USC’s company.  I’m probably leaving something out — Carolina Ballet usually brings their group of talented and enthusiatic young dancers to the stage in the spring as well.

Clearly, despite being something less than a southern arts Mecca, Columbia is rich with chances to observe one of humanity’s purist exhibitions of angst and joy — dance.  And to the casual observer, this would be something to celebrate.  But for those of us who are saddened by the lack of comraderie among some of our local dance powers that be, there is often a little less spark to the spectacle due to the dulling nature of the politics that go on behind the scenes.  Grudges, old wounds, misrepresentations, rumours, insecurities and fears abound — less with the dancers themselves and moreso with the big guys, old timers and occasional patrons who must think that one day their loyalty will be rewarded — or maybe that negative energy is good for the soul?

Not me. I often have curious folks from one camp question why I continue to support the other camp despite all the flaws, real and imagined, the curious folks so easily see.

The reason is simple.  Like it or not, the Columbia arts community — particularly those who are, know or love dancers — is a family.  And not just a run of the mill family, but a Southern Family, at that.  All of our members are right out there on display, including extra helpings of crazy aunts who in any other part of the country might be hidden in the attic.

And just like a family, there is no getting away from those to whom you are related.  Everything that is done is done in the reflection of one another.   Sure, you can try to hide.  You can move to another state or studio; you can marry or change your name.  But every single person who has danced, will dance or watched dance in Columbia, SC is connected to one another through training, technique, history and experience.  We’ll all come together at the funerals in the end.

But why wait?  Why not adopt the policy of those competitive California wineries back in 1976 when Chateau Montelena slapped the French wine snobs in the face with the proverbial white glove and went on to win the Judgment of Paris?  Or similarly that of the Pacific Northwest craft beer breweries who, though actively competing for the price of the pint, are positively stoked by one another’s successes?  For those big fish, a win for any ONE in their small sea is worth a win for all.  How nice it would be to hear one Columbia dance artistic director compliment another, or cheer from the audience, or better, encourage his dancers and students to be both patrons and artists.

Because that is what we do when we’re family.  We know one another — we may not love or appreciate one another, but we belong, we accept — we’re family.

Now, I really have to get back to writing — grading.

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