GTPulse: Traverse City Dance Project Hosts No Distance Dance Festival Virtually

Do you miss dancing? Bars, clubs and weddings have had to make major adjustments to cope with the pandemic, one of them being dancing. With spaced out barstools, no concerts, and more elopements than weddings, I haven’t really gotten to dance this year much.

Dancing to Top 40 hits in a public setting is a lot different than the dancing Jennifer Lott does. A classically trained ballerina and dancer, it’s not a recreation for her, it’s her life. It’s a part of why she and fellow dancer and friend Brent Whitney have brought their passion for it here with the Traverse City Dance Project.

Brent is from Traverse City and met Jennifer while they were both doing a work-study program in New York City. They worked at a cafe together in exchange for dance instruction, and after theprogram ended, they remained in contact.

Professional dancers have a yearly schedule similar to a school schedule. They work throughout the year training and performing, with summers off. Because they don’t work the full year, they have to file for unemployment.

TCDP was an answer to summertime unemployment for their friends and other dancers across the world who were interested in working over the summer and coming to beautiful Traverse City, Michigan to do so.

Dancers apply and come live and work in Traverse City for the summer before putting on a performance at the City Opera House in September. Jennifer, Brent, and other choreographers create four dance pieces that are shown at the Opera House over a week span. The contemporary dance style provides the audience with an entertainment experience comparable to concert dance that one would find in bigger cities with a dedicated dance scene.

The summer residency lasts about six weeks and includes dancers, but also music composers. She pairs up and coming composers with professional dancers in a blind date style where they then create song and dance that coincide with each other beautifully.

Although typically there are only four dance pieces created for TCDP every year, with the pandemic the dance festival has gone virtual.

Jennifer and Brent’s answer to that was the No-Distance Festival, and instead of the usual four performances, they were able to have over 20.

They paired choreographers and dancers from all over the world. These blind date pairings resulted in plenty of Zoom call collaboration and a little patience, but the resulting work has been a beautiful process for them to engage in, and a lovely one to see.

This year’s theme was connection. With more of us relying on screens for connection than ever, it seemed appropriate. 

I was reminded a couple of days ago of Earth Wind & Fire’s hit song September. Is there anyone on this planet that doesn’t like it? It’s recognizable instantly, but not in the annoying way that Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ is, or heartwrenching in the way that Sarah Maclachlan’s ‘Angel’ is. September feels like fall sunshine on your skin. It’s light. It’s infectious. It asks us to remember another time and to dance. Both of those things are some of the only things I take any solace in at the moment. Remembering better times, and remembering the joy that dance brings to me and others.

We may not see each other on the dance floor anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dancing in other ways. The No Distance Festival has one more featured dancer and composer before their performance schedule is over this season. Jennifer and Brent have pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of carrying on TCPD’s annual performance, and they can’t wait to delight and inspire on stage in Traverse City again, when the time is right.

Check out the last installment of the No Distance Festival here.

Categories: GTPulse