How [nueBOX] Founder Julie Akerly's Dance Café Will Explore the Metro Phoenix Dance Scene

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Most dancers don’t have a lot of time to sit around and talk shop. They’re busy performing, rehearsing, taking dance classes, booking dance gigs, and working jobs that help support their time spent dancing.

But Julie Akerly, a dancer who co-founded the new works development organization [nueBOX] with Matthew Mosher in 2014, says those conversations matter. So she created a space for local dancers to have them.

It’s called Dance Café.

Dance Café happens from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, November 19, at Mesa Arts Center. It’s a free gathering for professional dancers in metro Phoenix who want to engage in a thoughtful dialogue about the local professional dance scene.

In metro Phoenix, the dance community includes a diverse array of dance styles, performed in a wide range of settings. Best-known ballet and modern dance companies include Ballet Arizona and Center Dance Ensemble, a resident company at Herberger Theater Center.

But the Valley is also home to several contemporary dance companies, including Scorpius Dance Theatre and CONDER/dance, which presents an annual dance and film festival called Breaking Ground at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Pardon the pun, but there are a lot of moving parts.

The local dance scene is also home to several dance creatives who often work outside traditional dance companies or venues. Most notable are Nicole Olson and Liliana Gomez, whose work has been performed at Phoenix Art Museum, Desert Botanical Garden, {9} The Gallery, Heard Museum, and the Rio Salado Project.

Several local dancers and dance companies have worked with [nueBOX] through its artist-in-residence program, which relocated to Mesa Arts Center from Phoenix Center for the Arts earlier this year. Akerly is artistic director for a dance company called Julie Akerly Movement.

Any number of people could have organized a conversation about the Phoenix dance scene. For example, Lisa Chow, artistic director for Desert Dance Theatre, has organized several gatherings designed to help dancers share knowledge and resources through the Arizona Dance Coalition she helps lead today.

Akerly says she was inspired in part by a December 2015 New Times article, which challenged the local dance community to undertake “thoughtful reflection and discussion about the metro Phoenix dance scene.”

She’s bringing in leadership consultants from Phoenix-based Christofolo|Schermer to facilitate the discussion. Before setting the agenda, Akerly and [nueBOX] artist development director Allyson Yoder talked with more than a dozen local dance professionals working in different styles of dance about what they’d want this type of dialogue to address. “I don’t want it to include only contemporary dance,” she says.

Dance Café is an opportunity for emerging and established dancers working in diverse styles and settings to get to know one another better, to share their perspective on the local dance community, and to work together on creating and achieving shared goals, Akerly says.

She’s hoping the gathering will help dancers identify or create shared resources, build support for each other’s arts practice, identify dance community needs, and begin to find ways to address those needs. And she’s planning a follow-up gathering for those who want to collaborate on an action plan for moving the dance scene forward.

As of last week, about 30 people had signed up to attend – including dancers, choreographers, and dance educators working in college or university settings. Outreach and engagement professional from various museums and performing arts venues also plan to attend.

Of course, one of the most significant developments on the local dance scene was MacArthur Fellow and Dance Exchange founder Liz Lerman joining Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, where she launched an Ensemble Lab that fuels cross-discipline collaborations.

Lerman is part of another dance conversation happening that same day at Mesa Arts Center, which will focus on “creating an inclusive vision” for dance in Arizona. Called Dance/AZ: Shaping the Future, it’s taking place from 1 to 5 p.m. Lerman is co-facilitating the event with Yvonne Montoya of Tucson-based Safos Dance Theatre. Conveners also include New England Foundation for the Arts and the National Dance Project.

Both Dance Cafe and Dance/AZ: Shaping the Future are free, but registration is required.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.

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