An Interview with Christine Jowers
Christine Jowers is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Dance Enthusiast, which has prided itself on leading an exuberant revolution in dance communication for the past 10 years. She shares her views on how things have changed (and keep changing) in the field of dance criticism.
How did you get into writing about dance?
I have always been interested in expression and communication. I inherited this enthusiasm from my parents. In the Virgin Islands (where my family is from), my father was a visual artist and later an arts administrator. My mom was a museum curator at Fort Christian in St. Thomas. I spent my days after school studying dance, singing in choir, acting and taking sculpture or painting classes. I often helped my parents prepare exhibits and shows, or greet artists visiting our island. I have always enjoyed being an ambassador, teacher, guide and producer, whether for the Virgin Islands, for artists, or for any other cause or person I believe in. Writing is part of that work.
I started writing about dance at Goucher College, where I majored in dance history/criticism and communications. I never gave a thought to pursuing writing as a career endeavor; I was a performer and preferred the stage.
Now, I see the website as simply a different venue for dance and a different mode of performance.
Why did you launch The Dance Enthusiast?
I danced professionally for many years. Behind the scenes, my talented peers often complained that no one would critique or preview their shows because they weren’t “big” enough to be considered for coverage. I noticed people who were covered complain about the limited number of voices in criticism and the dismissive tone that pervaded much of that field at the time.
I was interested in the work of an online site called The Dance Insider. I thought it was great, but was puzzled that there weren’t more visuals. The web is such a visually exciting format, and I felt that the internet could do so much for dance promotion and dance education by bringing reviews to life. This fact, and the need for our community to be written about, spurred me to contact my friend Will Arnold, just out of NYU, who had just started his own web company, Design Brooklyn. We started The Dance Enthusiast in the bedroom of my apartment on the Upper West Side. (It was the only room that had a desk; the dining table was reserved for my sons’ school and art projects.)
What do you find most rewarding/frustrating about writing about dance?
I am happiest interviewing choreographers/dancers and going into studios to learn and chat about what people are working on. (Maybe I am more of a people enthusiast.)
It is a huge responsibility to put words, that last, to dances that often don’t – especially when so few people write about our field. To think a review of mine might be the last word on a dance work is intimidating; on the other hand, adding to the conversation, providing an alternative point of a view, and covering people who might not otherwise be written about is valuable to the field.
I interviewed Jody Gates via Skype some time ago and, later when I introduced myself to her at a performance, she said, “You made me sound like myself.” That was a huge compliment.
What larger trends have you noticed in the dance world during your time writing about dance?
Funders – both public and private – and service organizations are more aware of race, gender, ability and cultural differences in our dance community than they were 10 years ago, and that is wonderful. The funding and action in this area mean that more points of view are represented and appreciated, and the idea of opening the arts to everyone is a real value.
A great deal of time, effort and money have also been put toward the education of young children and their families regarding the importance of dance. The New York Department of Education, foundations, generous private funders, and other arts workers are coming together to make sure dance is a part of the education of every child. Hopefully this ensures that dance will be vibrant in the future. I think it is fabulous, and am thrilled to be one of the members on the advisory board of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, which is in the midst of creating a dance program for kids and families that will be a permanent part of their work.
What larger trends have you noticed in dance coverage during your time writing about dance?
As print dance writing has more or less diminished, dancers cover themselves on social media, creating active, engaging presences to attract audiences and tell their story. I love this. Dance companies have also become more savvy about inviting press into their work. While the studio is still a “sacred” space, it has becoming more inviting as older, larger companies realize they need to connect with audiences on many levels to remain vibrant.
Actually, one of best companies in New York City to deal with this is our oldest American modern dance company, The Martha Graham Dance Company. They have been absolutely super to The Dance Enthusiast since the beginnings of the site – extremely inviting and game to try new things.
New tech apps and great smart phones make communication easier for dancers and cultural reporters. When I first started The Dance Enthusiast and attended professional events with my iPad, phone or FlipCamera (remember those?), photographers scoffed and other reporters looked at me curiously. At a more recent event, I sat next to Andrea Mohen, the photographer from The New York Times, who commented about my iPad, “Those things take absolutely great pictures.” Attitudes have changed.
Still, the dance field could use more investment of money, time and energy in technology. There is an interest in this as far as performance is concerned, but as far as money towards innovation for dance writing and criticism… I am not so sure.
Given how relatively few people write about dance, what do you think could be done to make dance writing more viable?
I wish I knew. There is no money to be made except maybe part-time. I am sorry to say there is also not much mentorship or peer support. It is understandable, I suppose, as so many have been put out of work over the years.
We mentor each other at The Dance Enthusiast but, outside of our little group and with the exception of a few very kind people, it can feel lonely.
Now that The Dance Enthusiast has been around for almost 10 years, and I have built a team of great people to work with, perhaps I can spend more time and energy on this issue.