Dance Diplomacy at Home

How is a small, dedicated team reaching scores of people daily through dance?

Launched in March, Battery Dance TV accrued 70k views across 112 countries in the first 8 weeks. The company's artistic director Jonathan Hollander, who teaches dance diplomacy through CPD Summer Institute, suggests it's a mix of "artistic excellence and social relevance, stirred with a base of access to all."

Considering these in the context of a global quarantine, we invite you to learn in-depth about this recent global initiative courtesy of the Battery Dance team:

 


 

 

Battery Dance, a mid-sized dance institution based in lower Manhattan, is known for punching way above its weight. The staff of five full-time employees rolls out New York City’s longest-running dance festival each year; operates two dance studios utilized by 300+ dance companies and community groups on a subsidized time-share basis; nurtures a world-class dance company that creates innovative work with a "sandpapered finish"; tours to as many as 12 countries each year as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State; and brings highly acclaimed "Dancing to Connect" programs to New York City public schools and youth around the world.

The pandemic hit New York City hard in early March, and by the end of the second week the curtain came down in theaters; international tours were suddenly cancelled; schools were closed; and life in the city ground to a halt. Battery Dance announced the closing of its studios, sent its staff and dancers home, and began the brainstorming process that led to the creation of Battery Dance TV.

Without possessing tech savviness, the Battery staff hunkered down, got advice from as far away as Kolkata, and figured out a way to upload programming on a regular basis: five original programs, every day of the week.

Since going live on March 27, the Battery Dance TV channel has provided 300+ free live dance classes of multiple genres; original solo performances from homes and surroundings; dance diplomacy interviews with interlocutors, dancers and culture leaders; sessions with public diplomacy diplomats from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Western hemisphere; and international guest artists who offer classes and original performances from their homes.

The goal was always to serve anyone and everyone, following Battery Dance’s twin aspirations of artistic excellence and social relevance, stirred with a base of access to all.

“Battery Dance TV allows us to continue connecting people across the world through dance at this time of social distancing and isolation,” said Jonathan Hollander, artistic director of Battery Dance. “We and everyone we know at home and abroad are facing emotional, psychological, physical and financial challenges. For 45 years, we have explored the power of dance as an art form and a means for social impact and connection. We are not going to stop now when the need is so great.”

Offerings have included:

  • Morning warmup, stretching and conditioning exercises
  • Mid-day classes in contemporary dance with afro, ballet and jazz fusion elements
  • Evening classes in varied ballroom styles
  • Daily 4pm short video by dancers performing in their living rooms
  • Sunday interviews: Dance Diplomacy with Jonathan

 
Adding to this mix and in response to requests from its ever-growing audience, in May Battery Dance added classes in improvisation and musical theater dance.

On Giving Tuesday Now, Battery Dance turned the giving equation around and instituted 15-minute sessions of "Mindful Movement" for frontline healthcare workers to reduce stress and offer personal time to regain composure and balance. Sessions are scheduled morning, noon and night 8x/week, to conform with the shifts of healthcare workers and hospitals as advised by administrators from New York City hospitals and others as far away as Dallas and San Diego.

Given the predictions that a return to normalcy is as much as a year or more away vis a vis international travel and large gatherings in theaters and even outdoor performances, Battery Dance will continue to refine its remote programming and let it evolve organically. Funding is a severe problem, but the company is lean and optimistic and hopes that grants will come to help cover its expenses with its empty studios and empty live program calendar serving as a reminder that earned revenues have evaporated, and other sources will be needed.

 


Jonathan Hollander is artistic director at Battery Dance and can be reached at [email protected].

STAY IN THE KNOW

Visit CPD's Online Library

Explore CPD's vast online database featuring the latest books, articles, speeches and information on international organizations dedicated to public diplomacy.