By Mariane Gutierrez
Alumna Dawn Davis Loring (B.A., Dance, 1992) co-wrote Dance Appreciation, a textbook detailing the importance of different dance styles, alongside Julie L. Pentz to illustrate their inclusive point of view on the subject and highlight diversity among dance. Published by Human Kinetics, the book features Texas-based artists and contains conversation regarding the significance of social media and streaming services on creating, learning, and disseminating dances. We recently caught up with Loring to talk about the book and her career.
You’ve said that you and your co-writer Julie Pentz wanted to create a dance appreciation textbook that better served your needs. What were these needs, and how does this book address them?
We set out to write the “Goldilocks Dance Appreciation textbook”—one that wasn’t too long or too brief, a book that shares the breadth of the dance experience and fulfilled our twin objectives of fostering connection and inclusion. The core of the book consciously establishes connections between students and the art form so they can develop an understanding of the breadth of the field and also find a personal connection to an artist, teacher or scholar, whose work and/or writings they find engrossing. We also wanted to compose a text that addressed 21st-century issues of access and inclusion throughout, and our book demonstrates that online technologies and social media engagement continue to forge new pathways between dancers and audiences.
What sets your book apart from other dance textbooks on the market?
From cover to cover, our book honors dancers of all types, ages and abilities in both photos and content. It addresses and challenges antiquated hierarchical frameworks and presents Western dance techniques through the lens of dance as an inclusive social activity, inviting everyone into the dance circle. Threaded throughout the book is a sampling of working artists, scholars, dance videographers and somatic practitioners from all over the country, demonstrating that dance exists everywhere and that there are multiple career pathways in the field. And looking forward, we included a chapter discussing aerial dance, a remarkable form that coalesced only a few decades ago, upending prior conceptions of dance. Perhaps most importantly, we maintained a throughline of access and connection in the text, discussing the impact of connective technologies and social media on creating and sharing dance in the 21st century.
You included some Texas-based artists and scholars in your book. How did you decide who would be interviewed for the book? How did their input impact the direction of the book?
We both feel very strongly that dance belongs everywhere, and we wanted to honor artists, teachers and scholars working in the field that live in the middle of the country along with those that live on either coast. It is important to us that students see themselves reflected in the demographics of our chapter spotlights and feature choices and that our students be exposed to jobs in dance beyond performing and choreographing. We reached out to a broad range of our colleagues, and their engaging profiles give readers an understanding of how dance is passed down person to person, and a broader perspective of the types of dance one can pursue or career paths in the field.
What was your writing process like with a co-writer? Did the pandemic influence the progress of this work?
Our diverse experiences and strengths complemented each other during the process of writing the book. We separated the chapters according to experience and made sure we agreed on content, and as lead writer, I proofread the chapters and highlighted connections between them. We had just turned in the last of the initial chapter drafts when the pandemic began, and as we watched 2020 unfold, we were in the process of completing final chapter drafts and creating ancillary materials for the online package. So many changes were happening around us, and we wanted to honor the times while not overtly dating the contents of the book. So we focused on strengthening the thread we felt would continue to speak to future students—the presence of dance online and how various platforms and technologies connect people to dance. Additionally, we were honored to include a photo of Austin’s Blue Lapis Light, directed by Sally Jacques, in the Aerial and Site-Specific Dance chapter, and her dancers are wearing masks.
Why is it important for students—and especially non-dancers—to study dance appreciation?
Just as the study of art and music appreciation helps to cultivate an aesthetic education, so too does dance appreciation. I valued learning about other artistic disciplines in college, and the study of dance includes the added benefit of advocating for all three goals—a healthy body, an active mind and a curious spirit. Since artistic endeavor is the connective tissue for academic subjects, students who receive an education in all of the arts are better served to make connections between the study of literature, history, mathematics and science. Indeed, the study of dance can make dancers, but it does so much more—it creates a community of citizens who feel part of something larger than themselves, as audience members or future board members for dance organizations, but always as humans who love to move.
You’re an alumna of the Dance program here at UT Austin. How did your experiences as a Dance student shape your career trajectory?
The UT Austin Dance program laid a foundation and lit the spark for me. Besides technique, I learned the practical components of producing work, and I was prepared to “wear all the hats” as an artistic/managing director of a dance company, which I did with Mosaic Dance Body between 1999 and 2014. The UT Dance program made me want to seek out a terminal degree and helped prepare me for the rigors of graduate school. I learned how to write and to watch dance with a critical eye, and it was a fellow UT graduate and former managing director of the Sharir Dance Company—Cindy Goldberger (B.A., Art History, 1994)—who encouraged me to begin writing about dance as a critic for the Austin Chronicle, which is where I began my writing career in 1998. I will always be so thankful to the folks who mentored me and supported my early career, and I am very proud to be a Longhorn.