I hope readers will forgive me if I take time off from my usual (pretty depressing) preoccupations to brag about one of my nephews. (I do usually restrain myself when it comes to my own kids–that’s a tacky step too far…)
My nephew Josh Prince is a Broadway choreographer. Among his credits: Shrek the Musical, Beautiful, Trevor. He began as a Broadway song-and-dance man, but choreography was his love. As he embarked on that trajectory, however, he realized that aspiring choreographers faced a major hurdle to honing and realizing their creations; in order to create, a choreographer needs dancers, space, and time—three essential elements that are prohibitively expensive.
So in 2012, he undertook the fairly arduous task of creating a nonprofit and qualifying it under Section 501c3; it opened its doors in 2015. Dance Lab New York (DLNY) is an organization–actually, the only organization–dedicated to the advancement of choreography by providing those three vital resources to aspiring choreographers free of charge.
DLNY raises money to provide choreographers with a curated company of professional dancers, expansive studio space, and structured rehearsal time complete with a rehearsal director and staff support, allowing choreographers, as he says, “to incubate new ideas in a professionalized, supportive environment.” Since 2015, DLNY has served over 70 choreographers.
What prompted this post, however, wasn’t the growth and good work being done by DLNY; it was a recent addition to its mentorship program.
The original mentorship program–DLNY Connect– was created in 2017; the idea was to help rising choreographers by matching them with established experts in the field. Mentors observe the “mentees” as they create, using dancers from area universities. They then meet privately with them to offer feedback and guidance. Although there is no pressure to complete a dance, those that are completed can be shown as part of videos, school showcases, or via open studio forums.
DLNY Connect: NextGen is an offshoot of that original program. It supports aspiring high-school choreographers, and it is intended to encourage creative thinking, collaboration, the development of leadership skills and teamwork in young, aspiring choreographers–and not so incidentally, to nurture the next generation of those Josh calls “dancemakers.”
My sister shared a brief video from this year’s pilot program. I hope you will click through and watch it. It’s far more informative than what I share in this post.
I take three lessons from the video: the obvious one is the benefit to a teenager whose feelings of being different might have led him to an unhappy or less-rewarding adulthood.
The second is that young people like my nephew (he’s still in his mid-40s, and I consider that young!) aren’t just “bitching and moaning” about perceived problems–they are moving to solve them. During the years when I was teaching, I had a number of students who joined and/or established nonprofits aiming to fill a variety of “gaps” in the social safety net.
Third–and perhaps most important–is that the video reinforced for me the enormous importance of the arts, in this case, dance. I am hardly the only person who believes that the arts are central to being human; Saul Bellow said it well in his Nobel lecture in 1976.
Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect on all sides – the seeming realities of this world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive. Proust calls these hints our “true impressions.” The true impressions, our persistent intuitions, will, without art, be hidden from us and we will be left with nothing but a ‘terminology for practical ends’ which we falsely call life.
John Dewey, the noted American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, agreed:
Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality. Those who have the gift of creative expression in unusually large measure disclose the meaning of the individuality of others to those others. In participating in the work of art, they become artists in their activity. They learn to know and honor individuality in whatever form it appears. The fountains of creative activity are discovered and released. The free individuality which is the source of art is also the final source of creative development in time.
If you want to feel better about mankind and the younger generation, or just want a “feel-good” few minutes, click through and watch the video. I did, and I’m going to send a few bucks to DLNY–and kvell a bit over my nephew. I hope some of you will join me!