Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Another Big Dance Feast from Dance Houston: Andrea Cody on this summer's festival

Houston's own dance maverick Andrea Cody has been thinking big since starting Dance Houston in 2003. Cody fills DSH in on this summer's line-up for her upcoming city-wide dance festival.

Dance Source Houston: I have always thought of you as a gutsy person. You blew into town one day and started a festival the next. That's one strategy for getting acquainted with a city and its artists. How did it work for you?

Andrea Cody: I'd been working as a dancer and choreographer for years, but it was hard for dancers or choreographers to get noticed in this big city. For that very reason, I decided to put my own work aside to organize an event that could provide dance companies a sizeable audience. As a descendant of Buffalo Bill Cody, putting on a show with hundreds of performers seemed to me something I could do. Returning home from competing at a national level in lindy hop, sure, I was nervous stepping out of the swing dance community and into the big, wide world of dance. Thankfully, people have been very supportive of me and my work.

DSH: If you can think for a moment like a presidential candidate and proudly taut your accomplishments, what would you say?

AC: Dance Houston played an important part in developing Urban Souls Dance Company. I noticed their Founding Director Harrison Guy when he danced in our first shows. He'd be on his headphones, listening intently to his music, running through his piece while warming up. Aside from having total dedication to his own work, he was also fully supportive of everyone else. On stage, he was athletic, versatile, bold, and creative. We gave him a chance to debut his company at Dance Houston, and followed up by helping him administratively to get his company off the ground. After contributing for four years to our festival and the Black Dance Festival, Urban Souls recently debuted its first full-length concert at Houston Baptist University.

DSH: Any other developments that have been a result of the front or backstage synergy between groups?

AC: There seem to be offshoots of Planet Funk springing up left, right, and center. Shawn Welling's studio is a bright shining beacon to aspiring hip hop dancers from across Houston. He gives so many dancers their start on stage, and his program builds their skills and confidence to the point that they strike out on their own. Four of the most accomplished hip- hop dance companies in Houston can all trace their roots to Planet Funk. This year's Dance Houston presents two of them, Ghost Crew and Wyld Styl.

DSH: Let's talk about the line up in Dance Houston's City Wide festival for 2008. It's a leave no genre out approach wouldn't you say?

AC: Yes, you can always count on us to offer a vast array of dance styles, yet this year expect to see a lot more contemporary dance than ever before. Even some of our seemingly cultural dance companies are presenting contemporary or fusion work. Sabor Mexico's ballet folklorico is taking on a modern feel through Jeremy Choate's lighting design, and Dance of Asian America is showing off their versatility in both a contemporary and Chinese folk dance.

DSH: Do you curate or can anyone apply?

AC: Through an online application process, we keep our door open to all Houston-based companies who wish to work in our environment. Most companies enter the festival through that channel, and we often have never even heard of a company before we get their application. What fun it is to review their videos and learn about their histories and visions.

DSH: I know you are a biz wiz. Got any sneaky ways of getting the word out and packing the house?

AC: Dance Houston is always on tour in Cyberspace. Our youtube site is a big hit, with just over 200,000 views, which is icing on the cake for dance pieces that have already been seen by thousands of locals and tourists. Our website currently averages 6,200 hits per day (up from 2,000 one year ago). Through a generous grant from Google, we've been spending thousands of dollars a month on online pay-per-click advertising. The big shocker? Even with all those advertisements, more than half of our clicks come from Myspace--absolutely free.

DSH: Let's talk audiences. I imagine your hope is that these groups are increasing their visibility. Is there any way of tracking audience growth?

AC: Sure, we sell our own tickets and keep close tabs on our numbers. Over the years, the audience for our summer festival alone has grown from 600 to 1600. We're also raising awareness for other dance events through our monthly e-newsletter with readership approaching 3,000.

DSH: What else does Dance Houston do besides the twice a year festivals?

AC: We've done two biennial Flamenco concerts in collaboration with the Spanish Institute of Dance, recently renamed Alegria Dance and Performing Arts Company. This year, we're blowing this one up into a Latin Dance Festival on Cinco de Mayo. We're excited about the expansion and plan on continuing this project on an annual basis from here on out.

We also run a popular dance camp for teens. Ten stars of Dance Houston give the kids intense dance training in diverse style from hip hop, Chinese, ballet folklorico, flamenco and 5 kinds of jazz (count them: traditional, modern, Latin, street, and contemporary!) This year, special Guests Kathy Wood of FlyWorks and Susie Boudwin of Houston Rockets Power Dancers gave the kids professional development seminars. The camp ended with two packed performances at Barnevelder that showcased the promising potential of tomorrow's dancers.

Dance Houston also works with individual dance companies in facilitating their own presentations.

DSH: Big dream?

AC: We want to help instill cultural pride and promote inter-cultural exchange in and amongst children of all backgrounds. Seeing one's own heritage displayed in a respectable environment is an empowering and inspiring experience. A model of this kind of presentation is the way Dance Houston presents diverse styles of dance in state-of-the-art theaters with top-notch artists. We not only want to inspire kids to participate in and appreciate the arts, we want them to see that their unique backgrounds make a significant contribution to the today's culture. We envision working with the school systems to facilitate field trips, school tours, and teacher workshops.

DSH: I am sure you would have made Buffalo Bill proud.

Dance Houston presents its city-wide festival ´┐ŻCelebrating Diversity in Motion´┐Ż on August 15 & 16, 2008 - 7:30pm at The Wortham Center, Cullen Theater.713/526-1049 or

Reprinted from DSH.