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Peter DiMuro: But when you break down making a dance, it’s usually– we play with leadership and followership which is a direct correlation to working on teams wherever you are. But more often it boils down to teaching them how to do simple equivalences of ideas and physical detail.
Anita Walker: Hello, I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Peter DiMuro. He is executive director of the Dance Complex and artistic director of Peter DiMuro Public Displays of Motion. Welcome to our program.
Peter DiMuro: Thank you for having me.
Anita Walker: So I’m going to start with a real easy setup question. Tell us about the Dance Complex.
Peter DiMuro: Well, the Dance Complex is housed in this beautiful old 1884 building in the center of Central Square. And dance has been a part of this building since the 1880s. The Odd Fellows who built the hall had public dances and all that in it. There was an aerobics studio during the ’70s and early ’80s. And then, in the early ’90s, Rozann Kraus, our founder, stormed the front door, because the building had been foreclosed by the bank and boarded up. And she and others coerced the city government of Cambridge as well as the banks to give the down payment or lend the down payment for the beginnings of the Dance Complex, Inc. And we’ve been there– it’s our 25th year this year and so we’re on the boards of celebrating 25 and dancing on. So we want to reflect on the past and use that reflection and action to go into the future.
Anita Walker: What’s neat about it is it’s kind of a co-op. Everybody pitches in and dancers are always looking for space and dance floors. Talk about how that works.
Peter DiMuro: Sure, sure. The business model which was set up years ago is very cooperative in the sense that all the artists who book space there, or I should say most of the artists that book space there, rent the space directly. It’s like a time share in a condo in Florida. You go for a week. Well, we only rent them for an hour and a half or two hours and so they are able to make all the profit from that class and take the risk in that way. We also cap the– for the general public, we cap the admission price to class. By keeping the rental prices low for the artists, we then ask the dance artist to keep their prices low for class so everybody wins on this. It’s not– it has to fall on our heads, on staff, to be creative on how else to make money but we don’t want to make it off the backs of artists who are already strapped.
Anita Walker: So I’m looking at my notes here and I’m seeing something about Whole Foods and I’m thinking, “Dance in a Whole Foods. How is this mashup go together?”
Peter DiMuro: Sure. So I have this double life, as you mentioned earlier. One is as an administrator, and I hope it’s a creative way of making the Dance Complex happen. But my artistic life, I run Peter DiMuro Public Displays of Motion. Prior to that, I was with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Washington, DC for 15 years, ran that company for a while. And we did some corporate work during those days and so, when I got here, I had– someone recommended me to Whole Foods, actually, a former intern, who had worked under me at Dance Exchange in Washington. And I did a series. I can’t remember– I think it was 10 or 11 workshops in the fall two years ago, where we brought managers from different Whole Foods from all throughout New England and we made dances together and…
Anita Walker: Now wait a minute. Just– you have grocery store managers coming into a room with you and you say, “We’re going to make dances together.
Peter DiMuro: That’s right…
Anita Walker: What do they say at first?
Peter DiMuro: Well, I have to warm them up a little bit and I can be charming. I got that Midwestern charm I cultivated. And I get them to trust me. We play some speaking and theatre game-type trust building things as well. But, when you breakdown making a dance, it’s usually– we play with leadership and followership which is a direct correlation to working on a team wherever you are. And so they lead and they follow and so somebody has their eyes closed and somebody has their eyes open. And hopefully, it’s the person with their eyes open that does the leading. And then there’s shape making and we make shapes. And sometimes the shapes are related to the grocery store, like how do you stand at the register. What’s your good posture for that? But more often, it boils down to teaching them how to do simple equivalences of ideas and physical detail in the store. And I usually, in those workshops, I’d say, “You’ve learned all these little tools to make a dance. Talk among the team of you”– we put them in teams of four or five, “and talk about the kitchen you grew up in. What were the smells in that kitchen? What did your family make for dinner? What was the wallpaper like? And this is where they find out about each other. Because you think you know somebody when you work with them but these teams were very diverse people. But, to hear the guys say, “I didn’t have a kitchen. We grew up cooking around a bonfire on a island off the coast of whatever,” and you can see the startled look in their coworkers and they start to know each other. And so, through this question interviewing process, you find out so much more about people, because you’ve a task at hand. The task, I got to make a dance. The context is the kitchen. And, all of a sudden, that makes sense for Whole Foods. So it’s a terribly bonding experience, I think, for these folks and I do think that, at the beginning, there are some skeptical eyebrows. They have to take this. They have to…
Anita Walker: Required.
Peter DiMuro: Required of them as part of their retreat. But I would say, out of those workshops, there was one recalcitrant fellow who just crossed his arms the whole time. And I usually say to somebody like that, “Just paste a smile on your face just so you look like you’re enjoying it. I don’t care if you really do. But more often than not, people love it, so.
Anita Walker: And they don’t just say, “But I can’t dance.”
Peter DiMuro: Right. Well, and that’s where we try to break down dance is that we have this idea that choreographers are these mean people with canes and sticks. And I experienced a lot of that growing up actually so the stereotype might be true. But, in reality, there’s a whole element of dance. Like at the Dance Complex, we have 1,400 people a week that come through that door minimally and I would say there are probably a thousand of those are non-professional dancers who might take an African class for a spiritual release during the week. We have a slew of people who take flamenco who are not of the specific– you don’t have to be Spanish to do flamenco or you don’t have to be African or African-American to do African class at all. There’s a mix of ages and people and it’s this idea that movement releases endorphins. It releases– people can think better when they’re moving. And so I feel there’s many reasons to come to movement that’s not– that’s different than– and it’s not a cut against Zumba or going to the gym but it’s different. There’s a poetic and a metaphoric connection to dance that allows people to make some kind of organization in their life, sorting through the problems that you can’t always do when you’re just on the treadmill and those kind– you get more anxious. I get. It’s like chewing gum. I get more anxious when I chew gum.
Anita Walker: Well, and it’s boring.
Peter DiMuro: Yeah, and it’s boring, right? Well, isn’t it great to think of the little stories and the big stories in our lives? And that’s what happens when you’re in an African class and the drums are going and it’s quite moving. I hear everything in the building because we have to work on our sound containment. But I hear flamenco above me and I hear the African class next to me. And then the kids, the Isadora Duncan, kids with the scarves, you don’t hear them so much but they’re really cute to watch.
Anita Walker: One of the things I really like about this is I feel like we, in our culture, have done such a super duper job of separating the ordinary person from art. Art has to take place on a stage. It’s what professional people do and, if I’m not professionally trained, I can’t make a tune on the piano or sing or dance. You’re saying that dance can be part of work, part of a lot of different things.
Peter DiMuro: Yeah, I think there’s a lot in our country, and it’s challenging as we go forth, to flatten the hierarchies around things. And I think we’ve seen, in all the arts, the museum world, the music world, and the dance world, especially theater somehow, because it talks at you and it has more dialogue. I think it’s an easier place to connect. But somehow, I think, different eras of artists and art makers enjoyed that kind of elevation and figured, “Well, it must be good because it’s mysterious.” And I’m all about demystifying dance, demystifying the process. When you come to see a work of dance onstage, to understand that it’s speaking to you the way music speaks to you sometimes, that there may not be a beginning, middle, end to a story but it might be a collage of thoughts that are put out in movement, you don’t expect classical music to tell you a story. But you react in feeling and your senses get peaked in different ways. So I’m advocate for that. I think, especially– I love children and I think they’re great and I think we spend a lot of time educating kids with dance. But it’s when you hit puberty and above, it’s almost you need more application of dance literacy for adults, because we get– we’re a little, still, puritanical perhaps in New England and we want to make sure that the body is in movement and space and it doesn’t feel foreign to you. And so, I love the idea that there are professional dancers but there’s a whole spectrum of people who enjoy.
Anita Walker: So, when we think about the various art forms and disciplines, one that we worry about more than ever is dance. Why is it that dance always seems so fragile among the art forms?
Peter DiMuro: It’s interesting. I’m– been doing this about 3 1/2 decades now. It’s hard to believe, only 36. And I’ve seen cycles where dance is supported from the training level into the production level to the touring level internationally. And I feel like what happens is that, if the dance shelf-life for most dancers is 12 years, maybe 15, I’m lucky. But, because I work with intergenerational folks, so my company is ages 20 something to 68 in the core company, as was the Dance Exchange from Washington was that range. But, more often than not, it’s a small amount of time to get a lot of work done and so you have a lot of turnover. And people want to see buildings. They want to hold onto the logisti– they want to hold onto a script for the theatre or the score of music. Dance is more ephemeral. I do think there’s a shift now, now that video is so big. “So You Think You Can Dance” and even “Dancing with the Stars,” which I actually enjoy more than “So You Think you Can Dance” because you see these celebrities really go through this vulnerable place and I think that teaches you a lot. Some of them are really bad and, yet, most of them improve. And so, I feel like there’s– the technological age, I think, can help us a lot. But it does take an investment of dancers in studios working. It takes our studio owners to realize that to teach a combination is not teaching all of what dancers need to know. They need to be able to think. They need to be able to have a conversation with somebody who works at Whole Foods and to become a dimensional human being so that they can be dimensional dancers and that, to me, is also a goal.
Anita Walker: Very, very exciting. Whole Foods, another reason to go get your apples there. Peter DiMuro, executive director of the Dance Complex and artistic director of Peter DiMuro Public Displays of Motion, another one of our creative minds out loud.
Peter DiMuro: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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