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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Connecting Through Dance

Mark Morris leads a workshop in Cambodia. Photo: Johan Henckens
By R. Michael Blanco

One pilot year and four seasons later, DanceMotion USASM (DMUSA)—the US State Department’s cultural diplomacy program produced by BAM—continues to work its magic around the globe. By the end of 2016, the program will have sent 20 dance companies to 47 countries, reaching more than 100,000 people directly in workshops and performances and over 20 million people through digital platforms and social media.

Conceived in 2009 by BAM Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo in response to a Department of State request for proposals, DMUSA brings its extensive network of national and international dance contacts to work with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in choosing dance companies to send on missions of cultural exchange throughout the world.

Flooring, awaiting installation in Cambodia. 
Photo: Johan Henckens
Late last year, Mark Morris Dance Group was sent on one such mission, to boldly go where they, in fact, had gone before. But this time, they not only immersed themselves in the fertile field of traditional Khmer dance in Cambodia, they also left behind some practical know-how.

In a four-day session of breaking (bread) and cutting and joining (wood), MMDG’s technical director, Johan Henckens, taught a group of Cambodian carpenters the art of building a “sprung deck”—a dance surface that is much more forgiving to dancers’ joints than concrete, tile, or stone. The resulting deck was left as a gift by MMDG and DMUSA to the dance community of Cambodia. The knowledge gained will hopefully result in more sprung decks and less sore joints!

The year 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of ADA—the Americans with Disabilities Act—“the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities.” Coincidentally, it is also the beginning of the fifth season of DMUSA. The DMUSA program is always looking for ways to reach those who might not always have access to dance in corners of the world so distant from BAM.

MMDG brought its renowned Dance for PD® program last year on its DMUSA tour, working in Taiwan and China with people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease as well as their caretakers. In 2012, Trey McIntyre Project brought a smile to the Sunshine Club in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a clubhouse for people with mixed abilities. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago shared a workshop with a group of deaf dancers in Spain in 2013. Illstyle & Peace Productions exchanged hip-hop moves with wheelchair-bound children in Belarus that year. And last year, David Dorfman Dance presented a short performance and workshop to a school of physically and developmentally challenged children in Hissar, Tajikistan.

David Dorfman Dance and Devinimler Disabled Dance Company in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Piotr Redlinski
Another component of DMUSA has brought collaborative performances to BAM. Doug Varone (New York) and Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company (Argentina); Trey McIntyre (Idaho) and Korea National Contemporary Dance Company; and David Dorfman Dance (New York) and Korhan Başaran Company (Turkey) and Armenian guests have given joint performances at the BAM Fisher in recent years.

Season five companies and tours are New York’s Dance Heginbotham (touring to Southeast Asia), Limón Dance Company (Africa), and BODYTRAFFIC from LA (Middle East). Each will tour for a month and engage in outreach events, workshops, master classes, performances, interviews, discussions, and participate in a US exchange component. There will be an emphasis on including people with disabilities.

DanceMotion USASM enables dancers to fly around the globe to a wide and varied audience, and builds better understanding between intrepid American artists and their generous hosts. Find out more by visiting

Michael Blanco is the DanceMotion USASM project director.

Reprinted from April 2015 BAMbill.

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