John Munger, artist/choreographer member, Saint Paul, MN

1.    What inspired you …?

I was inspired to become a dancer mostly by films. When I was eleven years old the sexist romp, “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,” appeared, and I happened to be back in the USA  visiting relatives in Rapid City, SD. Back in those days you could stay in the theater as long as you wanted, on just one ticket purchase, provided that you didn’t leave the theater. I watched that film over and over, eleven times in three days.

Back at relative’s home, I would try to recreate the simpler moves but was unsuccessful. Then it was back to Colombia where I became a high school athlete, and at the age of fourteen, was sent to a private boarding school, but the school didn’t have any kind of dance program.  

But during my freshman year in college the film “A Night With The Royal Ballet” appeared in art houses. Nureyev and Fonteyn dancing the Corsaire pas de deux. I saw it at the Harvard Square Cinema about six times. Rudy and Margot blew me away and revived my old passion and hunger. I was already into theater, so I started paying attention to Broadway-style jazz because that was what came my way repeatedly whenever I landed a role in the chorus of a musical, which was fairly often. From there I moved upward.

I was inspired to become a dance teacher by my seven-year association with the great theoretician and teacher Hanya Holm. I was inspired to become a choreographer by discovering that when I began to get moonlighting gigs late in college and just out of college directing civic theater productions and musicals, I loved arranging meticulously contrived crowd scenes.

2.    What advice for an aspiring choreographer or dancer …?  

Regardless of what your college dance department does or does not offer, seek out and learn a broad range of rudimentary administrative functions. Learn how to operate an accounting program like Quickbooks. Learn Accounting 101. Learn about the law on many levels – rentals, copyright, liability, employment, insurance, etc. If you start your own company, you won’t be able to afford anyone to do these things. You’ll have to do them yourself; perhaps for numerous years. An arts administrator who REALLY knows those things is one of the scarcest and most valuable people in the field.

Advice to a dancer: Don’t be a purist and don’t think that what you learned first from a beloved teacher is the best and only way, to move; seek out varied movement experiences.

Advice to an administrator: Seriously learn accountancy, bookkeeping, related software, and all that goes with financial planning, recording, and reporting.

3.    Where do you see dance in the future and how do you think your work fits …?

The current trend to combine and re-mix genres and disciplines will continue and intensify. This will globalize large segments of the dance world, artistically. Culturally Specific dance will not just be “Cambodian” but “Cambodian-Post Modern.” “West African” will become “West African-HipHop.” Middle Eastern dance will become “Tribal Fusion,” combining traditional elements with modern and jazz. And so forth. Modern will go in two directions; on the one hand becoming more and more balletic or technical and on the other becoming more and more multi-disciplinary. The second of those directions will mean more and more co-relation with video, inter-active props or sets, text/theater/acting, puppetry, and other disciplines. Purist traditional forms such as 19th century classical ballet, traditional Unkrainian character dance, and traditional Kathak, to name a few, will dwindle, modify and evolve, be relegated to “revered museum” status, or pass from the scene. Examples of all of the above are already in practice.

I don’t think we will see the end, yet, of the 19th century Industrial Revolution concept of the big museum on the hill, the big opera house downtown, the big ballet company, and the mega-symphony orchestra, all in palatial proscenium venue settings. But the social role for the arts is under serious challenge. Already we see programs like Engaging Dance Audiences, we see dance companies reaching into communities, we see increased use by individual musicians, smaller dance ensembles, and smaller theaters of settings and venues that have nothing to do with nicely dressed proscenium theaters.

College dance departments in America will have to change radically and soon. Right now they mostly offer pretty good modern based on the experience of the faculty, and most offer ballet, at various levels. But they’re going to have to get past this “Euro-American” predilection and quickly embrace world dance. Who knows what all this will mean for funding and ticket-selling.

4.    What do you hope your dance legacy to be….?

Two things. The first is to have fostered an appreciation and respect in the field, among administrators, for good factual and statistical data collection and research. My goal, as the first Director of Research at Dance/USA, was to bring a tipping-point plurality of the field to an understanding of, and craving for, factual and statistical data. My best wishes to Victoria Smith as my successor and to others around the country who have begun to pop up as dance researchers.  I hope that my legacy in this regard is that someone, somewhere, remembers me as someone who opened a gate into this good work.

Second, I teach with passion, experience, skill, and joy. I now have students placed in dance companies around the Twin Cities. What I strive to do is to give dancers at several levels the tools they can use in many circumstances. I want them to arrive in their advanced release technique class capable of investing an impulse with momentum, of distinguishing between a leap and a hop, of improvising in many circumstances (not just and only “contact”) of learning movement quickly, of understanding music more than before they took my class, of committing energy in chosen directions, of understanding the role of warm-ups, of bringing themselves as well as their bodies to what they do, of having an intelligent dialogue with gravity and with the space around them, with having a sense of ensemble, and so many more things. I want my legacy in the Twin Cities to be as a dance teacher (and writer) who sheds light in many ways to help many people.

 

John Munger (d. April 30, 2013) joined Dance/USA’s staff in 1996 after serving as a project consultant to the organization for many years. During his 20 years at the organization, he worked tirelessly to propel Dance/USA’s research department to its present status as the primary national source for quantified information about professional dance. Prior to his years as an independent consultant providing financial planning and management services for arts organizations, John served as Business Manager and CFO of the Saint Paul United Arts Council, Associate Director and Financial Manager of the Minnesota Dance Alliance, and General Manager of the Nancy Hauser Dance Company and School. He also served as a panelist for numerous local, state and national arts agencies. He was an active artist in the field since the early 1970s, when he studied and performed extensively with former Horton company member Norman Cornick and with legendary modern dance pioneer Hanya Holm. He taught Modern technique for Zenon Dance Company, choreographed and performed with his own Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble, and appeared with Continental Ballet of Bloomington, MN, in character roles such as Drosselmeyer, Doctor Coppelius, and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella.

In honor of John Munger’s commitment to research on the dance field and in recognition of his two decades with Dance/USA, the organization has established the John R. Munger Research Fellowship. The John Munger Research Fellowship providse annual support to one graduate-level student to learn and participate in national research efforts for the performing arts, specifically professional dance, at the Dance/USA office in Washington, DC for 6-9 months. Donations to the Fellowship Program may be made online.