Train of Thought

Candid Reflections from Publisher/Founding Editor Megan Andrews By Megan Andrews
  • Megan Andrews / Photo by Ken Cunningham

Interview by The Dance CurrentTeam

Reflecting on the experience of the past thirteen years creating and running The Dance Current is honestly overwhelming. It was for a while like pushing a freight train up a hill; now it’s like running madly in front of that train laying tracks as fast as possible. As I conclude my tenure as editor, I asked the current team to send me questions to prompt some reflection on this journey. Thanks to everyone who has accompanied me along the way.
- Megan Andrews, Publisher/Founding Editor

The Dance Current has evolved in many ways, from finding its place on the Internet to adopting colour covers. Which change do you consider the most significant thus far, and which change would you like to see for the magazine next? - Samantha Mehra, news writer

It’s funny, we’ve had a presence online for so long that it doesn’t seem like a change per se though of course our presence has evolved, particularly in the last several years. I think the introduction of colour covers and the change in our overall production values at that time (Sept. 2009) was pretty significant. When I send all the text files to our art director and then get a designed magazine back by pdf, it’s like Christmas every time with all that editorial content wrapped up in a colourful package. I’d certainly like to see the magazine consolidate and streamline its online presence. We have a plan sketched out and are waiting on funding results. Since pretty much the beginning, the vision has always included a complementary print-online relationship and as the new media environment evolves, the balance between print and online has been changing. I expect this shift to continue.

How do you decide on editorial content for the magazine? - Natasha Frid, board chair

That’s a huge question. In as small a nutshell as I can, here goes: we use our performance listings calendar in conjunction with all other information we have from our own knowledge of the scene and from our networks to consider what’s happening in a given issue-month. From there, we select artists and events from that month that are significant or deserving of coverage for some reason and we look for fits between these selections and the many different print and online columns or departments we have to work with (from all the mini items in the warm-up section of the print magazine to the features, news, reviews, web features and video blog). We make choices also based on who and what we’ve covered in the past and how recently, and we try to spread the coverage around, doing our best not to simply repeat the same small set of artists over and over and always trying to include new voices and perspectives.

I hold the image of a relief map of Canada in my head populated by many coloured stickpins with tiny flags for all the dance people and organizations I know. As I learn more and more about the Canadian dance scene, I add pins to my map. Lately, this map is more like a Google map with zoom and pan options and, instead of pins, I imagine embedded YouTube videos of dancing and other goings-on. I envision a studio I’ve been in, say EDAM in Vancouver, and who is likely rehearsing at a given moment, or a theatre I know, like the National Arts Centre Studio and what is slated to premiere there this week. For a long time, I’ve also kept a kind of editorial matrix in my head that has a number of different axes. In each issue, if possible and definitely over the course of a year, I try to ensure that we address 1) different sectors (creation, production, education, research, advocacy, management/administration, etc.), 2) different regions of the country, 3) different dance forms and practices, and 4) different generations. Gender is also a consideration simply because dance is proportionally female and yet we want to ensure due consideration of men in dance as well.

This happens rather intuitively now, for everyone involved in the planning; however, we make these parameters explicit on a regular basis in order to challenge our own assumptions and ideally move beyond them. I have always felt a great responsibility to present an up-to-date and evolving reflection of the Canadian dance scene in our pages. Of course, I’ve had to set boundaries around what we will cover because it’s not possible to include everyone in every form, everywhere in the country. As such, I’ve focussed on “theatrical dance” and more so on the “art” side of things rather than the commercial or “entertainment” side of things, though I write those words with “scare” quotes because, of course, there’s a huge debate embedded therein.

In terms of the feature articles, I would say there’s probably a balance between the articles that have developed out of proposals from writers/community members and articles that have come from a question, topic or issue that I’ve perceived and wanted to pursue. In the latter case, I approach a writer who I feel would be a good fit with the topic and the piece develops from an initial conversation between us. It’s quite interesting to go back now and notice that certain topics and themes have tended to recur in cycles.

What prompted you to start The Dance Current in the first place? - Kathleen Smith, writer/reviewer; How has writing for this magazine influenced your own creative path? - Aviva Fleising, Programs & Services Manager, Canadian Dance Assembly (partner); In what ways has running “The Dance Current” had an impact on your own career as a dance artist? - Julie Anne Ryan, second translator; What made you decide to start the magazine instead of working primarily as a practitioner (dancer, choreographer, etc.)? - Chiaki Nemoto, bookkeeper

When I lived in Vancouver as an emerging dance artist, I relied on The Dance Centre’s “dance central” to keep me informed about the classes, workshops, shows and people in the community. When I moved to Toronto, I was looking for something similar and though I found many different resources offered by many different organizations, I felt the need for a consolidated communication tool. I asked a few colleagues what they thought of the idea and so we began. (I would like to emphasize the “we”. This has definitely not been a solo gig.) The point was to create a centralized source for information about the Toronto dance community. The magazine really grew slowly from there, with input and support from a whole host of engaged artists, dance professionals and organizations. As I personally learned more about the history of dance publishing and dance writing in Canada and came to understand the real need for informed writing about dance in this country, the magazine took shape and, I think, began to meet this need, as other dance magazines have in the past.

I would say the magazine very much developed in parallel with my own ongoing learning about and reflection on dance in Canada and writing about dance. I definitely learn by doing; I can certainly trace an aspect of my own creative path, as a writer and thinker, in the pages of the magazine. I’ve also come to know myself as an editor as a result of the magazine. I really do consider the issues, and write and edit all from my knowledge, experience and bodily understanding of dancing.

My path as a dancer is much less obvious and public now; however, I continue to have a life in studio and sometimes on stage and, really, this has always grounded my magazine work. Though I certainly juggled a significant amount of performing alongside the magazine for a while, I sometimes wonder what my dance performing career might have become had I not started the magazine. I don’t feel like I chose the magazine over performing, rather that the magazine grew to the point where it chose for me. Though that’s not really true of course; I did choose it. I think because I saw by then that I could make a contribution to the field in this way it seemed like the right fit for me.

As artists, we put so many volunteer hours into our projects yet rarely recognize this or quantify it. Could you give us an idea of how many volunteer hours you think you’ve put into this incredible initiative and organization over the last 13 years? Any thoughts or advice? - Andréa de Keijzer, department photographer

Regarding the volunteer time, I think I have to say, “no comment” and leave it at that. In terms of thoughts or advice about this, in general I will say that I think it’s a troubling issue that warrants some serious and candid discussion in the sector. Certainly anyone driven by a passion for his or her work will always invest more time and effort than is documented on paper or remunerated by cash - this is not exclusive to the arts. For me, the issue in dance, particularly, is in the potent and problematic combination of the following: 1) a tendency to undervalue one’s expertise/training/contribution because it is inherently undervalued by our society as a whole; 2) an insidious sense that “others before us have not been properly remunerated so why should we be?” 3) specifically, in dance, the cultural history of the body and body-based art practice that has burdened dance with frivolous, extravagant or nefarious connotations, sometimes also connected with its disproportionately female practitioner population; and 4) the ultimate mis-fit of creative expression/artistic practice with a commercial/market imperative. Tackling this from the personal, since the larger issues will flatten a single individual, I believe dance professionals need to be empowered to speak up and stand up for themselves. This requires solid, concrete comparative information about expectations and rates of pay (within and beyond the dance sector), as well as shared stories and strategies for building a sense of self-worth and articulating it effectively (to oneself and then to others).

What has it been like working with so many writers, of different backgrounds and levels of experience, from across the country? - Kaija Pepper, assistant and reviews editor, writer/reviewer

A challenge and a delight. I have learned so much from both emerging and established writers and this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. One of my “secret” pleasures of editing has been the back and forth of notes and emails with writers about their ideas, the dancers, dances and topics they’re writing about and the use of language itself to express and effectively communicate. Perhaps this is what a behind-the-scenes DVD would reveal about this particular production - The Dance Current. There would definitely be a bloopers reel as well. The first issue almost went out with Health Beat spelled Helth Beat! Since then, my spidey senses have always been heightened as I proof (and proof and proof) each issue. (Thank god for copy editor Amy Bowring!)

I have to say that I absolutely love working with writers to first understand what they want or mean to say and then to delve with them into figuring out how to fully and clearly express this. I feel like I play the role of dramaturge to the writers I work with. There have been some really messy processes, in which there have been between fifteen and twenty drafts of an article from its submission by a writer to print publication. And we persevere. I have been pretty committed to working with even very emerging writers and artists who have something to express but who may not have the experience to get it into words easily. Usually though, there are between five and eight drafts of a piece before publication. Then there are those times when something comes in supremely clean and eloquent and I just marvel at a writer’s organization of ideas, framing, turn of phrase, choice of words, structure, rhythm and pacing. I didn’t have experience as an editor when I started the magazine. Working with all the contributors over the years has been my training - so I should just like to say here, “Thank you to all who have been my teachers”, including you, Kaija.

What articles/columns of the magazine have stayed the same over the years? Which ones have evolved or changed? - Kate Stashko, listings editor, staff writer

I think almost everything has at least evolved over the years. Probably the artist profile is the one standard piece that has always appeared in some form. The mini profile, Making Waves, (which you now write!) has been around for a long time too. I guess these elements speak to one of the founding intentions of the magazine: to introduce us to each other and thus to the public as thinking, speaking human beings, not just silent dancing bodies. I remember thinking (after I moved to Toronto from Vancouver) that it seemed like people in the dance community didn’t know about each other - even in Toronto itself, let alone across the country. I felt that it was important to make these acquaintances via the magazine so we would know who others in our field were, what they were inspired by and what they were making. My dad said to me once something like: “Everyone has an interesting story. You just have to ask a few good questions.” In my experience, this has proven to be true and I think it’s the second part that is key: good questions. Regarding the magazine itself, we’ve always published features of various kinds. A big change occurred - at least in my thinking - at ten years. I feel like up until then, I had been looking in on the dance community and curating content based on that viewpoint. At ten years, I intentionally “turned around 180 degrees” and began consciously looking out at society as a whole and asking feature writers to consider dance in that broader context. I’ve been quite inspired by some of the features we’ve published since then that connect dance to larger issues in society: technology, the environment, public space, social justice, ethics, politics.

What work are you most proud of? And why? If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently? - Ronn Battaglia, board member

Most proud of: I think the fact that the quality of the writing in the magazine has been very strong. It has always mattered deeply to me that if we’re going to represent dance in writing, it had better be done with deep care, respect, accuracy and as much eloquence as possible. Because dance and dancers have had a hard time, historically speaking, being taken seriously, I felt that the writing had a big job to do to buck that perception and represent the artists and the art form in a thoughtful and articulate manner.

What I’d do differently if I did it all again: Don’t start with eleven issues a year or even try to maintain nine plus a web presence (which we currently do) on a small, arts and culture magazine budget. It’s crazy-making!

What have you found most challenging to articulate about the art form and how has The Dance Current tackled the issue over the years? - Julye Huggins, video blogger

Writing about movement is really difficult and even established dance writers struggle sometimes. I often still push back on established writers, asking for more description, more specific adjectives, more detailing of the movement itself. I think some writers express themselves through a visual engagement with the dancing; others express themselves through a more kinaesthetic engagement. In the former mode, the dance becomes a kind of object that we “see” through the writer’s words, whereas in the latter mode, the dance persists in some manner as a subjective experience that we “feel” through the language. I enjoy pondering this relationship and have written a little about these approaches and modes of writing. But I’m getting off track. Yes, I think writing about the dancing itself is really challenging and maybe The Dance Current has tackled this in two ways: first, by providing opportunities for writers to practice and hone their craft over time, and second, by providing a committed, engaged editing process that has hopefully allowed the writers to explore, deepen and refine their expressions.

In terms of the influence of dance writing on dance practice, which avenues are the most exciting to you? - Marie Claire Forté translator, editorial advisor, writer

I feel like there are two ways to answer this question. One relates to my own research interests with respect to the relationship between movement and language, and the body as “interface”, to use a temporary term. I’ve been working for quite some time now with a writing practice alongside my movement practice. This immediate, almost stream-of-consciousness, reflection reveals so much about what’s happening in the movement, in my body, in my psyche. That writing/learning resonates with me as I begin to move again, be it the same day or several days, even months later. I feel this kind of writing deepens my understanding about what we might call “the meaning in the movement” and I am infinitely curious about and engaged by this process.

The other way to answer this question relates to the impact I believe dance writing has on the art form, in practice and performance. I fervently believe we need more quality writing about dance in this country - and I perhaps even more fervently wish that more practitioners would engage with and even contribute to this writing. It still surprises me when I read about an artist working with a particular set of questions or “innovating” with specific styles, modes or collaborative elements and I know I’ve read about other artists doing similar things - sometimes way in the past and sometimes now but on the other side of the country. Of course every artist’s expression is ultimately unique but I think creative practice and performance of dance would deepen significantly as a result of more, and more engaged, discourse that is shared by way of publication. When I say quality writing, I don’t just mean long form reviews that really tackle a work in depth; I also mean critical essays about pieces, performances, practices and perspectives in dance - specifically highlighting Canadian dance artists and work. I certainly think “The Dance Current” is a place for this kind of writing and we have certainly published some; however, there is so much more potential.

But let me say here and now, just as dancing and choreographing are practices that require training, effort and persistence, so is writing and there are not many avenues or opportunities for dance writers to really dig in, to practice, receive feedback and develop chops in long form reviews and essay writing. A few undergraduate- or even graduate-level essays are certainly not sufficient, nor is simply writing a personal blog, though that can be an important part of one’s practice.

Further, in considering the influence of dance writing on dance practice, I think reviews that engage critically with a work and offer evaluation are important catalysts. However, in dance, when there is often only one major review of a work ever, this piece of writing carries great weight. As such, I think the scope and scale of the evaluation must be aligned with the scope and scale of the writer’s experience, dance knowledge and viewing history. Otherwise it can do a great disservice to the artist, the art form and the reader as well - whether through undue positive or negative appraisal. This is why, as an editor, I look for descriptive and contextual evidence to support any judgments.

In looking back, can you speak to an event, or specific issue, that has changed or altered your original vision for The Dance Current? - Brittany Duggan, assistant to the editor, news writer

Yeah, right at the beginning. I really imagined a newsletter for Toronto. Someone suggested including an artist profile and someone else asked if we were going to sell advertising. The Canada Dance Festival (I think) bought the very first ad. That was a change right at the start. All along though, it has been an evolution. I often can’t say where different ideas come from - they arise through many, many conversations, interactions, reading, thinking, talking and doing the work.

The development of the Internet also facilitated a big change in enabling us to publish reviews online. We didn’t want to publish them in print because at the time the magazine was really a community-building initiative and we felt that if we started to publish critical opinions, it would potentially alienate the very people we wanted to connect. The potential to publish reviews online was a great solution because it kept that content separate from the print magazine and also allowed a more fluid publishing schedule so we could post reviews when they were ready. We didn’t have to put them through the long print production process.

Another change arose with the idea to create the Summer Annual as a compilation of reviews from the website. I think at that point I really began to understand the significance of the document we were creating of dance in Canada. In writing my feature article for the May 2011 issue, I went back to reference a bunch of old issues. It’s overwhelming to me to see how much is recorded in the magazine’s pages, how much has happened in just thirteen years.

What is the importance of the magazine continuing to develop an online presence? What founding aspect of the magazine do you hope will always exist? What aspect of the magazine do you hope will evolve and how? What is your favourite part of the process? - Alexandra Howells, e-bulletin coordinator and sales and marketing intern

In this day and age, the magazine’s evolving online presence is essential. It’s a reality of the new media environment. As I noted earlier, we have a plan sketched out and if all goes accordingly, we’ll be consolidating, streamlining and updating our web presence over the next year or two.

I hope the magazine will always serve in some way as a community-building tool: bringing Canadian dance people together via the page or the screen, introducing them to one another, sharing experiences and perspectives, and documenting the growth and development of the field. How it does so will change as times and technology and editors change I imagine. I certainly hope the understanding of “community” continues to evolve. It has already changed significantly since the magazine started in 1998.

My favourite parts of the process: talking about ideas and writing with writers; talking about ideas and dancing with dancers - and seeing the whole thing come together in the design process.

What has The Dance Current accomplished that you didn’t realize it would? In other words, how has it surprised you? - Cynthia Brett, assistant copy editor, news writer and editorial intern

Good question. I think, in fact, the way it has taken on a life of its own. The magazine manifests in a tangible way the efforts of so many people: those who work on the inside of the process at “The Dance Current” and those who work in the dance community - which is our subject matter. Each issue in itself is this interesting little object or package of effort, action and experience - representing choices made, which reveal something of the people behind those choices, from the work made by an artist to the words spoken in an interview to the quote chosen by the writer to the headline written by the editor to the image printed on the page to the colour selected on the cover … Certainly, the magazine manifests lots of choices that I make, but these are only in combination with so many others made by people inside and outside the organization. When I see the final version of a given issue, it always expresses the “more” of a gestalt, with so many elements and details coming together to create its identity. In some way, I find myself surprised every time.

How has the position of the independent dancer changed since you started The Dance Current? - Susan Kendal Urbach, managing editor

I think quite significantly. Along with The Dance Current, which I hope has contributed in some way to stronger communication among - and about - independent dancers, there have been a number of other developments in the sector. CADA-Ontario and CADA/BC have published the Professional Standards for Dance and the Basic Dance Agreement respectively, which articulate dance artists’ rights, responsibilities and fees. Dance artists are using this document and being empowered by it. Various training subsidy programs provincially help defray dancers’ ongoing training costs, and now the Canadian Dance Assembly is helping develop a National Training Subsidy Program. Besides these formal advances, I think dance artists, and the community as a whole, understands that being a freelance/independent dance artist or working independently but under a personal company name, is arguably more common now than being an employed company dancer. This is a reality in the sector and the concepts of parallel and portfolio careers are part of our vernacular. I also think training is catching up with the independent reality, with even established training institutions preparing their graduates for a multi-faceted career, with exposure to and experience in many different forms and styles. It seems to me that there has been a concerted focus on physical training over the past decade; I think - or hope - that perhaps we’re starting to focus more on choreographic development now.

Of all the images you’ve included in the magazine or online, what is the first one that comes to mind? - Andreah Barker, board secretary

Of course I read this and cover images start flashing before my eyes. And many are recent because of the shift to colour. I can’t just name one. Oct. 2010: Tap Dance in Canada (Travis Knights / Photo by Jared Wielfaert); Summer 2004 and Summer 2010 (with the wraparound cover): both featuring Compagnie Marie Chouinard; Nov. 2010: Reconsidering Public Space (Katya Montaignac’s “Corps anonymes”); Apr. 2010: Ethics in the Dance Studio (Shay Kuebler and Sasha Kozak in “new animal” by Dana Gingras for The 605 Collective); March 2009: Flamenco Feature (Carmen Romero / Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann); and certainly Pat Miner on the cover of the first issue May 1998! (View all our covers: www.thedancecurrent.com/back.cfm)

When and how did The Dance Current make the transition from focusing solely on contemporary dance to covering all forms of dance? How do you think covering all genres of dance has influenced and impacted the sense of a dance community in Canada? - Naomi Brand, news writer

In fact from day one our mandate has been to be inclusive of all forms and practices … however, we say we “strive” for this because it’s not something that can be a “fait accompli”. Dance practices are always evolving, morphing, developing and the community is always growing and there are definitely boundaries we’ve either explicitly set or implicitly used to make choices about what we cover. We’ve focussed primarily on concert/theatrical dance at the “professional” level - so not social dance, not amateur/recreational dance and not so much commercial/industry dance. And we’ve embraced Canadian artists in a Canadian context because to cover the international scene is just too immense a picture to try to “see” and also because other publications cover these landscapes. (I have always been dedicated to the Canadian picture because if we don’t write about it, who will?) … Therefore, we have inherently excluded forms and practices as well. I find this an everlasting catch-twenty-two - that we can never cover everything - it’s why the art form in this country needs a magazine - an ongoing vehicle to track an ongoing art/practice in order to represent the breadth and diversity of the scene over time.

Second question: I can’t say that I know what the impact has been on the dance community. I’d like to think that in part as a result of the work we’ve done at the magazine we, as a Canadian dance community, have a broader and deeper understanding of our colleagues and their work. I definitely can say what the impact has been on my own understanding of the dance community, which has expanded incredibly.

And there’s so much more work to be done to discover and build relationships with individuals and organizations across this country whose passion, pastime or profession involves dance in some form or capacity. So to quote Miriam Adams, co-founder and director of Dance Collection Danse and one of my colleagues and mentors, I say: “Onward!”

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