Contemporary dance companies strive to engage young people now to ensure a committed audience in the future. What are the best ways to engage college students with dance? How might they respond differently to live versus online engagement? And how can dance companies cultivate among the next generation fluency and life-long appreciation in dance?
With EDA support ODC, based in San Francisco, has developed I Speak Dance to introduce 18-25 year old college students to the world of dance. This portable mini-curriculum uses Web 2.0 technology, workshops, and performances to give students exposure to live, high-quality professional experiences with the art form.
To test and refine its model ODC opted to partner with four regional universities (San Francisco State University, University of San Francisco, Mills College, and the California College of the Arts). At each university, a dance professor and non-dance academic professor participated in the semester-long I Speak Dance and explored cross-curricular tie-ins. Causes identified for participation in the program include literature, philosophy, music and visual arts, and even a scuba class. With ODC, each university completes four elements:
Each element of I Speak Dance intentionally blends educational and social aspects. The goal is to help students become better-informed about dance, demystifying the artistic process and allowing them to enjoy and think critically about the art form. The first iteration of I Speak Dance took place in Fall 2010, with a second round in Spring 2011. Repeating it during a second semester allowed ODC to change the program length and format and assessment methods, as well as to adjust the grade level of the student participants.
Each element was accompanied by surveys, with open ended questions, to capture students’ impressions. ODC used a pre-/post-survey design to assess the extent to which students’ attitudes and inclinations towards dance changed in light of being engaged in the program; staff was most interested in the qualitative information, specifically students’ use of language to describe the dance they experienced. Notably, from its research, ODC learned that visual arts students in particular were able to express their thoughts about dance in an in-depth and sophisticated way.
I Speak Dance introduced 200 students to ODC, 60% of whom were new to concert dance, plus another 150 as guests to program participants. ODC successfully partnered with three of the four universities, finding that over 90% of students were engaged by the program. ODC came away convinced that, according to staff, the “college cohort is open and willing population,” and are “in a learning mode and curious to experience new activities.” The cumulative impact on students of participating in the program was clear, as they tended to cross reference learning as time went on. Having a mixed palette of experiences shifts these young people’s perception and appreciation of the audience and was worth the logistical effort. The film was particularly successful in eliciting interest and a “complex verbal response.” The uploaded Immediate Dance did result in extensive online traffic, which was presumed to come from on campus. Social engagement between the students and dancers significantly enhanced interest.
ODC has many lessons to share, both artistic and logistic. I Speak Dance involved significant staff resources, well beyond expectations, including 10 dancers, 2 choreographers and one staff attending all events, plus others to analyze surveys, and deal with administration and reporting. Getting buy-in from faculty partners was key; while the bureaucracy can be daunting, a fully “informed faculty partner can prevail,” according to staff. Artists’ skills at composing on the spot among a mix of dancers and non-dancers was key to their success. Paper and face-to-face evaluation methods worked far better than online surveys.
ODC feels the entire project can be worthy of replication by other dance companies and colleges. The company has provided both a Program Model and a thoughtful interpretation of the research it conducted, which includes the resulting modifications it made to the program. Both items will aid peers in replicating it. ODC itself will pursue this model of outreach in the future, but will consolidate events and hold them at their own space. The College constituency is, as they say, “low-hanging fruit for audience development,” that is worthy of cultivation for long-term benefit.
View ODC's Program Model for I Speak Dance.
View the orientation video.
View ODC's own research, as described above, which highlights student responses.
View a Power Point presentation about I Speak Dance, with research highlights.
Read about the EDA research that was conducted early in the project's timeline.
See also the content about this project that was presented during Dance/USA’s EDA Learning Exchanges, including video presentations from the grantees themselves about their project, as well as timelines, budgets, and other details.