Susan Epstein’s Silver Lining
I’ve written before about my friend, dance industry leader Susan Epstein, and I’ve also written about the silver linings of today’s world. Today, I wanted to share with you a silver lining she recently shared with me…
As you may remember, Susan is the Producing Director of Group Study at Gibney in New York City. Like everyone in the dance world, last spring Susan had to completely reimagine how to deliver Gibney’s programming. Master classes, workshops, and discussions moved online to Zoom, and Susan—ever the dauntless leader—began to brainstorm how to amplify their offerings even further. She said to me that the silver lining of taking Gibney’s group study online has been the OPPORTUNITY it brought:
“We can now serve more dancers, studios, and schools, without the travel aspect, and bring costs down for participants. A lot of kids in dance see their future crushed, but they shouldn’t! We’ve been able to help them start looking forward again.”
Susan’s perspective hit me hard—in a good way. She’s right. So many dancers find it impossible to look ahead to the future, to college or careers, when so much in the dance industry has changed since March of 2020. But now is the time to make the effort to GROW as a dancer! And as educators and leaders, WE have the chance now to help our students look further out.
Susan pointed out too that at Gibney, they’ve been able to add more options to their Group Study offerings online, making it possible for studios or schools or colleges to completely customize a group experience based on their needs and goals. Gibney added new styles to their master class roster and ramped up their discussion material about college dance and career pathways, including a career counseling partnership with The Actors Fund. They updated their workshops about health and wellness, emphasizing their partnership with the Harkness Center.
And for over 20 years, Gibney has also had social justice programs as part of its educational offerings, which are now more relevant than ever. Susan said to me, “It’s about asking, ‘How can you use your art and apply it to the things that are important to you and will make a difference?’ How do you use your creativity for impact?’”
What struck me most about this entire conversation with Susan was how it mirrors so closely what many of my studio friends are discovering right now … that the power of dance really does go beyond the individual dancer, and in fact it NEEDS to. The power is not in any ONE student or program; it’s in the collection of us all working together for an even stronger impact (and a strong recovery, post-pandemic). The power is in our ecosystem … the constellation of all of us learning from each other. We are educators and students and artists TOGETHER.
So here’s my question to you:
How are you harnessing this power now, for your students? What are you doing to help them look ahead with HOPE and foster their own sense of ownership over their future? To commit to themselves and their growth? To see themselves having a positive influence through dance?
Like Susan, I hope we can all see that the challenges of dancing through a pandemic are surmountable if we’re willing to get creative, look ahead, and take advantage of the new opportunities in front of us. She told me that even when they can resume in-person Group Study at Gibney, they also plan to continue their online programming because of its benefits. (Now THAT’S an extra silver living!)
I hope that as you step into spring—into classes, conventions, competitions, recitals, and more—you’ll be reminded of how much greatness there is in our industry and how opportunity exists around every corner, if we choose to seek it out.
To your students and their future!