Philly’s thoughtful dance-writing model (p.s. We should copy it)

I went to Philadelphia for the first time in October. Summer was refusing to abdicate to Fall, so we drank cold beers under a surprisingly strong sun and looked up at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. When I returned last week, I slid along sidewalks and puffed into my gloves. I honestly can’t decide which version of the city I prefer. Either way, I was still charmed, even more so when I was introduced to its dynamic dance community.

This visit came about at the invitation of thINKingDANCE, a unique two-year-old collective of writers committed to covering the wide spectrum of dance in their town. It was launched by Lisa Kraus and Anna Drozdowski, who got a grant to build a sleek professional website (because we cannot underestimate the value of aesthetics in presenting our writing) and pay writers a modest fee for contributing.

ThINKingDANCE is a clever grassroots response to the downsizing of arts journalism in recent years. It’s citizen journalism for the dance community, by the dance community, but with an eye to engaging folks beyond that community.

It’s not a blog. It has structure, editors and deadlines. It may not have the reach, or offer the rates, of the Philadelphia Inquirer (however much those rates have tumbled), but it’s a bold statement of action when so many are giving in to easy whining.

More than mere coverage, thINKingDANCE is a communal conversation. And better still, it has a stated mission to cultivate and encourage more dance writers, which means more dance writing.

On Saturday, in thefidget space, a cozy yet expansive loft about ten minutes outside the city center, I chatted with ten thINKingDANCE contributors about a range of dance writing issues: How do we consider new templates for dance writing? (i.e., Can we borrow from the listicle craze to attract readers but find a way to imbue it with thoughtful analysis?) How do we navigate perceived or actual conflicts of interest as both writers and creators? How do we consider our audience of readers?

None of these questions are unique to Philly. But thINKingDANCE is. After our daylong workshop, I observed the local writers gather around a spreadsheet to hash out writing assignments for the next two months. It was a long list and there were a lot of columns: author, editor, performance date, due date, etc.

It’s a serious, and seriously impressive, operation. The Philly dance community is lucky to have it. And other communities would be smart to emulate it.

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