by Chyrysta Brown for The Dance Journal
In 1964, the United States government passed legislation that banned discrimination. It does not take a history lesson or a sociological study to recognize that enforcing a law occurs more readily than an actual shift in public attitudes. Progress can be made when we are willing to have an honest conversation about race and discrimination. This article and subsequent ones in this series, intends to initiate such a discussion with local dance artists about their experiences within the Philadelphia Dance Community. In doing so, we hope to highlight possible courses of action for expediting a truly integrated and ideal dance community.
When Baltimore native, Lauren Putty-White, graduated from the University of the Arts, she knew that Philadelphia was her new home. Her work has been shown all over the east coast, yet Putty-White keeps coming back to Philadelphia and its constantly evolving dance community. “I like the idea of being a part of something new,” she says. “I went to college here and met a lot of dancers. I feel like I’ve planted a lot of seeds here.”
One of the seeds she has planted is The Putty Dance Project, a dance and music collaboration with her jazz musician husband, Brent White. The company had their debut in 2012 and has been performing in theaters and festivals ever since. The aim of the Putty Dance Project is to celebrate jazz dance and jazz music. Each show features live performances of both genres.
I asked how the company was planning to commemorate Black History Month this year, and I could hear the smile in her voice as she spoke about the relationship between jazz and Black culture. Using jazz as a cornerstone, she has found a way to infuse her heritage into her company’s vocabulary. They celebrate Black history with every step.
For The Putty Dance Project, the most diverse audiences have occured at area festivals and showcases such as The Norristown Arts Festival, Koresh Artists Showcase and The Performance Garage Showcase, all of which have featured Putty-White’s work. “Each performer has a different flavor, so we’re all inviting different audiences,” she explains. She says that each festival has given her company the opportunity to gain exposure to audience members they might not have otherwise interacted with.
Funding and marketing, the ever-present enemies of all artists, have been her biggest obstacles. Established companies tend have more resources and supporters at their disposal. Newer and smaller companies are struggling to build and maintain a following. “It is slightly disappointing because you want to integrate and allow the same audiences to see the same kind of shows,” she says. The solution may be in the festival format, which not only brings together different performers, but gives smaller companies access to pooled resources such as marketing and promotion, use of new dance spaces, and audience development.
Progress takes time, and so does fulfilling your dreams. The trick for Lauren Putty-White has been not to let anything distract or discourage her from her work. “Know that what you have is something that’s worth pursuing and sharing, and put it out there,” she advises. “Keep your eyes on the prize.
For more information on Lauren Putty-White or the Putty Dance Project visit: http://laurenputtydance.com/