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Bessie Endures: Tara Sheena Gives Her Thoughts from the New York Dance and Performance Awards

The New York Dance and Performance Awards (affectionately referred to as the “Bessies” after legendary dancer and choreographer Bessie Schoenberg) descend on to the city every fall to honor dance in NYC and, since 2010 at least, commendably attempts to acknowledge the full gamut of genres. The awards serve to remind us, even for a few hours, that no matter how frustrating or impossible it seems to forge a dance career in New York City, it is, indeed, the dance capital of the world. As a self-proclaimed dance history nerd, I always enjoy returning to the original byline of the Bessies, which began in 1983: “ [the awards] celebrate the unique creative voices of performing artists while providing the dance and performance community with an occasion to gather together in sorrow, in frustration, in anger, but ultimately in celebration.” Sure, celebration was in the air on Monday with a two-hour awards ceremony complete with a pair of dorky hosts (Gus Solomons Jr. and Martine Van Hamel), unrehearsed presenter scripts, and a bevvy of award winners, with most of the actual awards being accepted by proxy. However, in the few uniting events the entire dance community has in its possession, I could not help but think of the diminishing spaces and places the dance community— and, more so, the creative culture of New York City— has to its name. With Sunday’s impending shutdown of Dance New Amsterdam and the all-too-recent demise of the New York City Opera, Collapsable Hole, 5 Pointz and 3rd Ward all just barely starting to breed ramifications, my state of mourning has less to do with the usual frustrations of gentrification, lack of funds or the impossible pace of NYC real estate. It is about the displaced communities that are left so steadfastly in the tracks of closure and collapse. Each institution, though not directly related to the dance community but varied in their scope and history, has created networks of communities during their respective life spans. How to proceed?

I don’t know many events where I see downtown dance luminaries congratulating an American Ballet Theatre principal or where Broadway legends share the stage with accomplished dance historians. Maybe all it takes is that acknowledgment. Maybe all it takes is knowing that change, like death or collapse, does not always occur in seismic shifts but minute movements. There are divides and there are disagreements, especially at an event that literally separates winners from losers, but it’s plain to see the transcendent effects of a creative community at work. And, there are communities that make it work through it all. I think of AUNTS and their enduring zeal to create a culture of accessible performance that lives completely and undyingly in the spaces it inhabits. I think of the opening of the new BRIC House and what that means for a dense and lively creative community in all corners of Brooklyn. I think of ClassClassClass and The Playground and Skill Share and OurGoods and realize that even though we are losing one place of learning, we have outlets that will feed our impulses to know and know more. And, I think of the Brooklyn Commune and know that I am not alone in seeking change that will better our community. Yes, there is sorrow and frustration and anger but, with that, comes the realization that there is much more to be done…and, much more to celebrate.

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