Stories of Resilience: Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami

As we approach and pass the one-year mark since the COVID-19 pandemic caused nationwide lockdowns, South Arts is reflecting on our constituents who have worked tirelessly to overcome new challenges and reimagine their work. Throughout March 2021, South Arts will be running a series of articles penned by our program participants and grant recipients exploring how their work has changed in response to the pandemic.

Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami is a participant in Momentum, a multi-year initiative to strengthen Southern dance companies touring capacity. Starting in 2019, the cohort of Momentum companies have received ongoing professional development, networking opportunities, mentorship with leaders in the field, and other tools to foster their work. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program tactics shifted to support the companies in different ways, but the ultimate goal remained the same: to ensure that Southern dance companies are increasingly competitive on regional and national levels.

The following article was written by Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, Founding Artistic Directors of Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami

After months of crossing our fingers, and naively wishing for a miracle, the exhaustion of hope was bitterly painful. But, just as we were wallowing in artistic and fiscal defeat, South Arts was championing us as part of the five company Momentum cohort. When they announced facilitation of relief funding for each of us, we looked at each other through our 2” x 2” zoom windows in a bit of disbelief, and then we exhaled. Something we hadn’t done in months.

Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami: Start from nothing; stop for nothing.

Start from nothing; stop for nothing - the mantra fueling Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami since day one. Even so, this past year has been, and continues to be, a brutal test of our endurance, unity, trust, and faithful commitment to both the company and the injustices of arts. Arts organizations are uniquely expected (and in many ways forced) to creatively invent our own financial way - to pivot and reinvent at the drop of a hat, and to magically turn straw into gold. To our own fault, and against all odds, we generally do tend to find a way. As we continue with superhuman effort on the quest to prove to the world just how essential we are, we have completely conditioned society to take our constant self-sufficiency for granted.

Around three months into the pandemic lockdowns, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami had a pivotal moment, sparked by the irony of receiving the long awaited great news that we’d receive relief grant funding (thank you South Arts), and the horrible news that the remainder of our live performance season at our home venue had officially been cancelled.

After months of crossing our fingers, and naively wishing for a miracle, the exhaustion of hope was bitterly painful. But, just as we were wallowing in artistic and fiscal defeat, South Arts was championing us as part of the five company Momentum cohort. When they announced facilitation of relief funding for each of us, we looked at each other through our 2" x 2" zoom windows in a bit of disbelief, and then we exhaled. Something we hadn’t done in months.

The funds meant something different to each of us, but collectively, we understood they were meant to temporarily assist in our survival. At Dimensions, we knew that with or without funding, we would only survive the pandemic if we could manifest a way to thrive within it. As a young company of only 4 years, we believed that inactively "hanging on" would have led quickly to our demise, even in light of the pandemic circumstances. As the saying goes "out of sight, out of mind"…and eventually out of support. South Arts had thrown us an unexpected lifesaver. We could either use it to float in place in the middle of the pandemic storm, or leverage it to help us swim in new directions, hopefully into calmer seas. So, with our teeth clenched, facing against the current, and bracing that lifesaver, we started kicking…hard. We did not feel like ethically we had any other choice; we had a tremendous responsibility to our artists, to ourselves, to our donors, and our community; driving us to mobilize against all odds in the midst of a lockdown.

From the beginning of the pandemic, we approached the virtual world like singing for our supper, but without clear direction or intention. And because our performance revenue stream had screeched to a halt, everyone involved was basically volunteering their time to keep the company “active”. The welcome relief funding from South Arts provided us with essential resources to re-group, define a purpose, and re-imagine our activities. We made a conscious shift in energy and repositioned ourselves not according to what everyone else was doing, but what we felt made sense for us. The revving of our engines manifested unexpected opportunities, like SMDCAC’s “Sessions”, Palm Beach Cultural Council’s “Art Shift”, and The Kennedy Center’s ”Arts Across America” (facilitated by South Arts), which helped give us purpose again. We solidified existing partnerships and fostered new corporate relationships. We used digital platforms to serve those in our community that we hadn’t been able, or even thought, to reach before. We organized our DDTM@Home virtual programming efforts around an enhanced investment in our live season that was eventually to come, and in large part on our dancers; focusing on serving their artistic needs in a year of lockdown. While our virtual activities did not earn us financial revenues to speak of, they earned us recognition, additional support, and respect. More relief funds eventually materialized from Miami-Dade County, the State of Florida, and The Miami Foundation. Our continued activities helped garner us $13,000 in crowdfunding support on Give Miami Day, and most importantly, they strengthened our organizational drive, mission, and unified spirit during a time of major turmoil. Focusing our efforts collectively, in strange new ways allowed us to emerge in 2021 renewed, refocused, and reenergized for our return to live performance.

We are often asked about “silver linings”. They can be terribly hard to weed out while in the midst of loss and pain, but if there were one for Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, it was that for an instant in 2020, we enjoyed the fruits of an even playing field. Organizations big and small, established and new, were all in the same boat; and all tasked with responding to new “terms & conditions”. We were all experiencing panic, strife, and struggle, and stood on common ground. The virtual stage, at first, seemed unconcerned with budget, popularity, or prestige. This new platform called us all to do what we inherently do best as artists: serve the humanity within the art form. It seemed like across the globe we were one in our desperation to express ourselves. We had a shared urgency and therapeutic goal to heal ourselves and others. For a brief moment, we enjoyed solidarity. We were a community that supported each other, and felt for each other.

We initially approached the digital world with hesitancy, and each project was cautiously produced as “experiment”. But we quickly realized that despite our apprehension, our dabbling was having a positive impact on the organization and our constituency. People were craving human and artistic connection, and we were providing it, even if in a low budget, no-frills way. We began to understand that being young was actually to our advantage as there were few expectations for our virtual and technical capabilities; people were pleased enough just to connect with us and get to know the company a bit better.

Small can be mighty, and an unexpected shift can sometimes have a welcome result. We motivated ourselves with goals that would continue to serve our mission and vision; goals that were collectively important to us all on a personal level, not a corporate one. We invested in our own agility and adaptability, and took advantage of our intrinsic ability to operate on a shoestring budget. Energy begets energy, and as the trajectory of our activities advanced, our private donors began stepping back up to the philanthropic plate - many with renewed generosity and a belief in us that helped us to kickstart our 2021 return to the stage. In January 2021 we performed live for the first time since the pandemic in collaboration with our sister company Ballet Vero Beach, and this February, we re-ignited our live performance season here at home presented by the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center - outdoors, and for a completely sold out (socially distanced) audience. And once again, we are able to exhale.

Start from nothing; stop for nothing.

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