Regional Dance America/Pacific
2018 Annual Festival

Spokane Convention Center

Spokane, Washington

April 10-13, 2018

Dean Speer

You may well imagine that I was in hog heaven during Regional Dance America/Pacific’s recent Festival, held in the historic Inland Empire city of Spokane.

20 pre-professional companies from the West Coast — Arizona, California, Idaho, Utah, and Washington — converged on Spokane’s Convention Center and Opera House over the course of four days for masterclasses, workshops, seminars, panel discussions and, each night, a performance. The daytime activities ran concurrently, often beginning as early as 8:30 a.m. and going until 4:30 or 5 p.m. when there was a break for a group buffet dinner, followed by a short, covered walk to the Opera House to enjoy the shows.

Program Cover for Regional Dance America/Pacific Festival 2018

Program Cover for Regional Dance America/Pacific Festival 2018

This year’s talented batch included:  Ballet Yuma; Brigham Young University Theatre Ballet; Columbia Dance Company; Dance Connection Ballet Company; Idaho Regional Ballet; Juline Regional Youth Ballet; Long Beach Ballet; Maple Youth Ballet; Marin Ballet; Mid-Columbia Ballet; North Coast Ballet California; Paso Robles Chamber Ballet; Peninsula Dance Theatre; Sac Civic Ballet; Sacramento Ballet Youth Ensemble; Santa Barbara Festival Ballet; Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre; South Bay Ballet; State Street Ballet Young Dancers; and Utah Metropolitan Ballet II. Each of these groups performed one ballet, chosen in advance by the Festival’s adjudicator, James Sutton. These ballets showcased each company and ranged from the Balanchine-like to the contemporary.

The atmosphere was bright, cheerful, supportive, and very serious but fun. Classes were well-received and attendees worked hard, were very focused, and seemed to gain a lot from the experience, as did I.

I particularly enjoyed Charlie Hodge’s presentation on his TED Talk, Failure, a story of how he was able to find success through failure and setbacks, including auditioning for and being turned down by 41 ballet companies, yet performing for Sacramento Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, and Twyla Tharp. What he had heard throughout his career were comments like, “Short, bald, pudgy BUT look at what he can do!” Should we change that “but” to “and!?” (I now jokingly sometimes say to classes, “There are no buts in ballet!”) At Cornish College where I earned my dance degree, the ballet studio always had a bathroom scale in the down left corner, with the assumption that the women (not the men) would weigh themselves routinely. I personally vowed then and there that no future studio that I either directed or worked in would have one of these, nor would I ever request that someone be weighed. Never have, never will. Clearly, we need to work for more diversity in our dance community. A lot of progress has been made yet still more steps in this direction need to be taken. (I note that, as far as I can see upon occasional visits to my alma mater, they no longer have scales out in the studio.)

The men got their own classes, conducted by experienced teachers who each relayed and related “men’s work” in their own style and method. There was some amazing young talent and one whom I felt was “company-ready” — from Ballet Yuma, Eric Snyder.

The women were also quite nicely trained, and several seemed poised for continued professional training, such as the Professional Division at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

On my first night in Spokane, I observed my good friend and colleague, Lynne Stocker, teach her advanced ballet/variations class for a competition studio in north Spokane and was impressed by their fearlessness, attack, and great amplitude of movement.

It was a great trip and one that will continue to resonate for a long time to come.