The more I reflect upon the conclusion to my post ?Thinking out of the Niche,? the more those final lines sound like a futile and frustrated directive to no one but myself. Last week I harped about the need to continue pitching dance criticism to the fabled general reader even as dance writing migrates to the fractionalized web. And then what should I do come Monday? Post a review written for already committed balletomanes. Why? Because a journalist naturally writes with the actual, not the idealized, audience in mind. So as that actual audience narrows, how do dance writers prove they can connect widely? I don?t have the answer.
But I know it involves rallying an audience whose members identify not as readers of dance reviews, but as general readers who happen to want to read about dance. And I think we have an excellent test case in the San Francisco Chronicle, which decided not to hire a dance critic after the departure of Octavio Roca a year ago. To be perfectly forthright as one of the stringers now providing coverage, the situation works to my advantage: I like freelancing. But the lack of outcry from the dance audience?and the reaction from the dance community itself?puzzles me.
A group of dancemakers calling themselves Choreographers in Action (or CIA) launched a write-in campaign to the Chronicle in the spring. Their tactic was for each dance company to send a press release for an upcoming performance along with a big glossy photo showing the Chronicle editors what their paper was missing out on and shaming the paper for neglecting to support the local arts. In other words, they wrote in as a special interest group demanding their right to coverage.
I admire their spunk and believe that at the very least, the CIA has tightened connections among Bay Area choreographers. But does their strategy work? Or does it inadvertently strengthen the impression that dance reviews are for a specialty audience? Because what did not come in to shore up the CIA?s position, at least according to Datebook editor David Wiegand on this Voice of Dance thread, were letters from the readers of dance reviews.
Dance review readers! Are you out there? When the Chronicle cut its book review, readers cried out and the section was restored. A campaign to get readers of dance reviews to write in?not just to the Chronicle, but to mainstream publications everywhere?now that I could really get behind.
You’re between a rock and a hard place on this, as are we all. Locally, the Seattle Times hasn’t hired a permanent dance writer since their Newspaper Guild strike almost four years ago. They have a stable of freelancers, and are better off than they might otherwise be since the editor of the weekly arts pullout is a former dancer and still writes ocassionally, but it remains that there’s no one on staff whose primary beat is dance. You may have seen the recent notice about the finalists for the PNB artistic director position — that was broken by the Times, but it was their theater critic who wrote it.
When I write for the Seattle Weekly, I aim for a general audience, but working for a publication that has limited space to cover a growing arts community means that I write about a fraction of the work that’s done here. I’m currently involved in a project to revive a local dance monthly, this time as a web site rather than a print publication, and one of the carrots hanging in front of my nose during the process isn’t just the idea of writing for a dance-literate reader, but the chance to write more often — for something to actually reflect and record the breadth of work being done in my home town.
I will step off my soap box now…