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Cool Cleveland  |  February 12, 2020

INTERVIEW: Pam Young of DANCECleveland Reflects on a Life in Dance

On February 3, 2020, DANCECleveland made the surprise announcement that long time Executive Director Pam Young was stepping down, effective August 1, 2020. She has been leading the organization since 2003, and has been at the forefront of modern and contemporary dance for two decades. The company’s board of directors will conduct a national search for her replacement.

CoolCleveland wondered about the changes she has witnessed in the field of dance, what challenges she anticipates, and how Cleveland has changed in the past 20 years regarding dance and movement. Pam Young graciously agreed to offer her thoughts.

COOLCLEVELAND: What is the achievement that you are most proud of?

Pam Young: The first short answer would be ‘saving the organization from closing’.

When I stepped into DANCECleveland, it was at a very difficult time for the organization…it was not assured of even remaining open. The Board had put a motion on the table to close due to the severe financial situation. I offered to take a look to see if things could be salvaged because of the organization’s storied history and because we still had 4 dance companies coming as part of our season. We are an organization that has always cared deeply about the dance companies we work with and it seemed untenable that we could leave them in such a situation. I rallied the best and brightest people I knew to join me in putting together a road map going forward. I have to admit there was a good deal of luck in that the Foundations that supported us stuck with us…but a pathway was created and we weathered the storm. Around 4 months into the process, the Board offered me the job of ED and I began taking a modest salary…Since then we have been doggedly focused on strong financial management and have strong operating cash and cash reserve funds, a risk management fund and, most recently, created an Endowment.

All of that said, my most treasured memories are all about the amazing performances we have brought to Cleveland. I was at a conference many years back when someone asked me about our upcoming season and I shared the companies coming and a women several seats down the row jumped up and asked, ‘where is there such a season-outside of NYC?’ and when I replied Cleveland, she gasped and said-‘does your community know how lucky they are?’ What we do has never stopped feeling like magic.

CC: As a leader in the field of dance, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the almost 20 years at DANCECleveland. What are the key areas of dance and movement that have changed the most to you?

PY: When I started there was still a very solid wall that separated ballet and modern dance. But what has been most exciting to see is how, as a modern art form that is being created now-with choreographers of today is that it is always evolving. It has felt like all dance forms are continually expanding and melding so that it is now common to see Urban dance movement in a work for a ballet company, etc. It is also tremendous that choreographers respond to the world around us. We had a work that was created in response to police violence against African American men and another about the environment. These works are poignant, heartbreaking and illuminating…and so important.

We have also seen a growth in audiences who have really warmed up to dance…

What has not changed is that dance is still the least funded art form and one of the most difficult to create. There is a shortage of dance spaces across American in which dancers can work, a lack of theatre tech time available to produce work and a lack of funds to get work made, let alone performed. How dance ever gets to stage is nothing short of a miracle.

Finally, DANCECleveland is one of a very few dance-only presenters left in the U.S. Most multi-arts presenters don’t include dance on their seasons because of the costs of production. So dance companies don’t have the opportunity to share their work or enough opportunity to be presented.

CC: With the challenges of technology, social media and people spending increasing hours behind screens, what do you see as the future of live performance?

PY: I am still hopeful that coming together to have an experience together with others will be valued and sought after…but only time will tell with this. It goes even further than this as people do not read newspapers, get emails, etc. but only communicate in closed loops with friends. It makes it very challenging for us to even get our information in front of people….it is a constant challenge and one that changes nearly every year with new platforms.

CC: Do you see potential opportunities with technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality, which relies on movement in the real world?

PY: We have seen a rise in the number of dance companies working with some type of VR technology. The work can either be very interesting in that the technology has enhanced the work or the complete opposite where the technology is the ‘tail that wags the dog’ I think it wonderful that choreographers have an even richer toolbox of possibilities in order to make work.

CC: How has Cleveland changed during your tenure regarding dance and movement?

PY: Cleveland has always been a community that has loved the arts…and for some, the bolder and newer the better and for some just the opposite. The dance companies on the ground here in Cleveland have continued to thrive and with the Cleveland Foundation’s emphasis on ‘Dance Mastery’ with students across the community, we are seeing a growing number of truly remarkable dancers coming through the programs…

That said, we still don’t have a designated theatre for dance so dance performances are in a number of venues and hard to find. If anyone wanted to find a dance performance to attend they would have to search a half dozen dance companies’ websites. I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for Cleveland and northeast Ohio to become a major center for dance with spaces for dance residencies, production residencies and professional development for dancers.

On Sat 2/15, DANCECleveland will present Comapgnie Herve Koubi from France in their Ohio debut at Playhouse Square.


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