Transcript, Episode 47: Dance as a National Resource, Harry Styles’ Moves, and Erin Pride

[Jump to Erin Pride interview.]

Margaret Fuhrer:
Hi, dance friends, and welcome to the Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:
I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Cadence Neenan:
And I’m Cadence Neenan.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media, and we are recording this episode on Wednesday, just after President Joe Biden’s swearing-in. So, it’s fitting that we’ll be talking about why government support of the arts is so critical and how the Biden administration might best help the arts world through this pandemic crisis and also beyond it. Then we’ll zoom in a little bit and look at New York State Government specifically. We’ll look at the arts survival program that Governor Cuomo announced last week, and at an insightful op-ed that was written in response to that announcement. After those sure-to-be pretty intense discussions, we’ll unwind for just a second by talking about the kind of incredible interview that Harry Styles’ choreographer gave about the making of the “Treat People With Kindness video.” Although, I’m realizing that actually, that conversation is also bound to be fairly intense in a different way.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah, because Cadence is here!

Margaret Fuhrer:
Cadence is here. I can’t wait. Then we’ll have our interview with Erin Pride, the dance educator and entrepreneur who hosts The Dance Boss Podcast. Erin is really good at helping people figure out the business side of whatever their dance stream is, because you can’t be a dance boss without understanding how dance business works. That’s one of the themes that we return to periodically on this podcast.

But before we get started, just a quick reminder to make sure that you’re signed up for our daily newsletter, because it is A of all, free, and B and C of all, it’s useful and fun. The Dance Edit newsletter—it’s a dance news digest. It rounds up all the dance worlds top stories every weekday in a format that’s designed to take about one minute to read. It’s for dancers, dance teachers, dance administrators, dance enthusiasts, dance moms…there’s a little something in it for everybody. So, whatever your involvement with dance, if you’re not already subscribed, you can do so at thedanceedit.com.

And now, as usual, it’s time for our dance headline rundown, which is, as it always seems to be these days, jam packed. Courtney, you’re up first.

Courtney Escoyne:
Starting with some more delightful news from Washington: The Kennedy Center announced its newest class of honorees, which will include beloved dancing multi-hyphenates Debbie Allen and Dick Van Dyke. The Kennedy Center Honors typically take place in December, but were postponed due to the pandemic. This group will be honored through a series of virtual tributes the week of May 17th.

Cadence Neenan:
And in even more delightful news from Washington, which is just shocking to say—

Courtney Escoyne:
Two in a row?

Cadence Neenan:
The United States Postal Service announced an all new tap dance stamp series, which is very difficult to say. Designed by art director, Ethel Kessler, and featuring photographs by Matthew Murphy. The stamps highlight tap icons Max Pollak, Michela Marino Lerman, Derick Grant, Dormeshia, and Ayodele Casel. Tap fans will know that this isn’t the first that USPS has honored the forum. In 2019, the Postal Service released a stamp featuring actor and tapper Gregory Hines in the Black Heritage Stamps Series.

Courtney Escoyne:
I just need to know when these are coming out because I guess I need to buy more stamps now.

Margaret Fuhrer:
They’re so good. And I love that they hired Matthew Murphy to do the photos too—dancers photographing dancers.

Cadence Neenan:
And I love that Matthew Murphy actually posted the names of the dancers, unlike the USPS press release.

Courtney Escoyne:
Shade! [laughs] So, Paris Opéra Ballet has slowly begun to deal with the racial stereotypes in its classical repertoire, finally eliminating the use of blackface, here in the 21st century. But following an interview of Paris Opéra director Alexander Neef in Lermont, in which he reportedly implied that some beloved classics might disappear from the repertoire, there has been some outcry from France’s right wing, bemoaning that the company is giving in to cancel culture.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I mean, eye roll.

Courtney Escoyne:
Just deep sighs and eye rolls.

Cadence Neenan:
After going viral online with its video “Dancing Through Harlem,” the Dance Theatre of Harlem was invited to appear on “The Ellen Show.” The company debuted a piece created just for the show, titled “New Bach,” choreographed by Robert Garland, which featured the company’s dancers dancing through New York City.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And I think they ended up leaving with $20000 to go toward their pandemic fundraising goals, which is also wonderful.

Cadence Neenan:
We simply love to see it.

Courtney Escoyne:
Nina Ananiashvili will not, after all, head the ballet company of the Novosibirsk Ballet and Opera Theater in Russia. From what we can gather, it seems that they’ve mutually agreed to terminate the contract after some upset from the theater that she had publicly disclosed the impending appointment before the theater itself had shared the news.

Margaret Fuhrer:
A lot of twists and turns in that story.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. So she is still at the State Ballet Theater of Georgia, just to be clear for everyone.

Cadence Neenan:
Los Angeles-based dance company Lula Washington Dance Theatre received a $970,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Award is the second largest in Lula Washington’s history, according to executive director, Erwin Washington, who received news of the award in December. Many in the community see the award as a symbol of hope for performing arts groups of color in particular, who have long been frustrated by historical funding models.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Makeda Easter wrote a great piece about that for the Los Angeles Times, which we’ll link to in that episode description.

Courtney Escoyne:
And more details are being announced about the lineup for Dance/NYC’s annual Symposium, which will be held entirely virtually this year, March 17th through 20th. Themed: “Justice. Transformation. Education.,” There will be three content tracks, one for each of those terms. I particularly wanted to shout out the keynote panel, A Reckoning of Power, Accountability, and Gender Equity, which will be moderated by none other than our very own Lauren Wingenroth.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yay, Lauren!

Cadence Neenan:
The New Zealand-based Royal Family Dance Crew received swift online backlash after announcing a $200 per dancer audition fee, in a recent social media post. Brett Goebel, Palace Dance Studio manager and father of choreographer Parris Goebel, responded by saying, “Those who want to make it and are talented would know that the auditions are in January, and so they’ll save up for it.”

Margaret Fuhrer:
I can’t go there right now.

Courtney Escoyne:
I will derail the entire episode if I start… Baryshnikov Arts Center announced its digital spring lineup, which spans from February to June and will include premiers from Bijayini Satpathy, Mariana Valencia, Stefanie Batten Bland, and Kyle Marshall. And I was particularly tickled by the quote Mikhail Baryshnikov gave to the New York Times about the video works: “Work presented on a digital platform is kind of a massive blind date.”

Margaret Fuhrer:
Always quotable.

Courtney Escoyne:
Misha, never change.

Cadence Neenan:
And in some very sad news, Sir Robert Cohan, a pioneer of contemporary dance in Britain, has passed away at age 95. Brooklyn-born Cohan performed for years with the Martha Graham Dance Company, often partnering with Graham herself. And in 1967, he moved to London where he became the first artistic director of the London Contemporary Dance School, as well as the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. He was later knighted for his services to choreography and created work well into his nineties. Needless to say, social media has been awash in tributes since his passing.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, that’s a big one. RIP.

So it is a big day—it is a big week—for the United States. Joe Biden has now officially been sworn in as our 46th president. And while the Biden administration is obviously facing a huge number of pressing challenges, it does feel like a good moment to sort of take a breath and take stock of how our country approaches arts funding. How is the current system broken and how might it be improved upon? Because the need for more comprehensive and more coherent federal support of the arts has never been clearer than during this pandemic.

So, first we want to talk about the why of federal arts funding. Because a lot of people still argue, as the previous administration believed, that that kind of support is best left to private donors and charities. Last week, San Francisco Chronicle critic Joshua Kosman published an essay making the case for government arts funding. And it sort of boiled down to one idea, which is that the arts are part of our nation’s critical infrastructure.

Cadence Neenan:
Yeah. So Kosman talks a lot about how in 1935, FDR’s Works Progress Administration included tens of thousands of dollars towards artistic progress. Money that went to painters, writers, composers, theater directors, and more. So he then kind of questions this idea that many people still hold today, that the arts are a luxury—he points out, as we’ve been saying for months now, that the arts are essential. If you look at what’s been driving conversation, healing our wounds, helping us make it through the last 10 months, it’s art—be it cinema, television, music, and of course dance. But Kosman takes it a step further and points out that at this dual moment of national crisis, as we as a country cope with both the effects of the pandemic and face a reckoning with our racist history, we need the arts more than ever. Because it’s playwrights, painters, musicians, filmmakers, and dance creators who will help us work through the way that we live now and help us to face the reality that we face today. He says that art is another form of dialogue. It helps us to process, and because of this, we must invest in it. And in particular, we need to invest in the works produced by artists of color.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I think it’s interesting that what he’s essentially arguing is that the arts are not an extra, they’re not a luxury, they’re a resource and a tool. As you’re saying, Cadence, they’re one of the best tools that we have to make sense of all these multiple crises that are happening right now. And I think dance, especially the catharsis that dance provides, either watching it or doing it—I mean, just look at what happened after the election, when everyone poured into the streets—dance itself is especially useful that way. And I don’t mean to, like, diminish the arts as, “Oh, they’re utilitarian.” No, of course not. But when we need everything that we can possibly get to help us heal from all of these crises we’re facing, the arts are important part of that toolbox.

Courtney Escoyne:
I think as human beings, something that we always come back to is storytelling. That’s what we do, we create narratives, even if we’re not consciously trying to do it. And the thing that artists do, even if they’re working in abstract work, they help articulate a thing that maybe you’re feeling, but don’t quite know how to approach. They help illuminate something that maybe you haven’t experienced, but get you to look at it a different way. It’s one of the reasons why we constantly come back to the refrain of “representation matters,” especially in the arts, because it helps you to step outside of your own experience for a moment. It’s a tool for empathy. It’s a tool for healing. And I think especially, as Margaret said, dance in particular in this moment, especially when we’re also separated by screens and we are choreographed in our daily lives, keeping six feet away from one another—still bringing that awareness back to your body, even if you’re just watching dance, is hugely important for staying connected to our common humanity.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So at almost exactly the same moment that Kosman’s piece went live, New York Times critic Jason Farago published a widely shared piece that laid out this big ambitious plan for how the Biden administration could first of all rescue the arts from their current pandemic-induced crisis, and then ensure that this kind of emergency doesn’t happen again. Both Kosman and Farago referenced FDR’s Works Progress Administration in their pieces. And I think it’s worth noting that now that Democrats are in control of both houses of Congress, that kind of New Deal presidency seems much more attainable for Biden. So dreaming really big for the arts, as Farago does in his plan—it doesn’t feel ridiculous the way that it has for the past several years. Like, yeah, let’s aim high! We can aim high now.

Let’s talk a little about the specific suggestions that Farago makes.

Courtney Escoyne:
So there’s basically three core components of what he laid out in this fantastic essay. So starting with, of course, the Works Progress Administration, FDR’s New Deal, doing what is today’s version of that. The idea of a federal cultural works project, which would essentially put artists of all stripes on the federal payroll to do projects in various communities, not just because artists deserve a living wage and to be able to feed themselves…

Cadence Neenan:
The bar’s on the floor.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yes. Which that’s again, whole other topic of conversation.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Another podcast.

Courtney Escoyne:
Not just for that, but also to help us spur economic recovery. And I think it also does feed back into what we were just talking about, about the arts being important spiritually and emotionally for America. So point one, put artists to work on the federal payroll.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I do think an important note there is that we shouldn’t be forgetting that the primary motive is economic stimulus. So that means that dance artists shouldn’t have to prove their worth to receive help, which has been a long time problem in the dance funding world.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yes, which is a huge point that’s made in this story, is talking about rather than applying for a grant and saying, “Yes, this is why my work is great and it excels”—instead of making those judgment calls, trust artists to know what they’re doing and put them to work.

Second point in here is we need a better safety net for artists. We actually need a better safety net for everyone, particularly considering how many people are employed by the “gig economy,” which obviously ground largely to a halt in the midst of the pandemic. And the holes that we already knew about that existed there became extremely readily apparent. So the pandemic unemployment assistance, which allowed freelance contractors to apply for unemployment, that was huge and very important. We need more stuff like that. And we also need things beyond just unemployment. Again, lots more to say there, but umbrella topic number two, better safety net.

Margaret Fuhrer:
One specific that he called out is money for pandemic appropriate infrastructure improvements, like giving theaters grants for HVAC upgrades that’ll make indoor performances a more realistic possibility. Get that on the list right away.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah absolutely. And frankly, that should be infrastructure across the board, regardless. That’s just a thing that needs to happen. We live in a world where we are now living with a global pandemic, that needs to be the standard.

And number three, looking at actually getting more representation for arts and culture within the White House Administration itself. Does that mean a cabinet seat? Does that mean a department of culture? Does it just mean a committee? It can mean any number of things. And I think—I am not the person to make the call about what the best version of that might be. Definitely a point that was made was reestablishing the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which basically resigned en mass in 2017. Reassembling that, so that these more high-profile artists who have name recognition can use their star power and their influence and their access to advocate for arts in the rest of the country, so that we have representation that goes beyond just the NEA begging not to get cut every year.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So I wanted to talk about some dance-specific ways these suggestions might be applied, starting with: When we’re talking about putting artists on a federal payroll, I think cultural diplomacy could end up being a big part of this—much as it was back during the Cold War, when we were sending dancers and dance companies all over the world. We sent the Graham company everywhere. We sent New York City Ballet everywhere, or the earlier versions of New York City Ballet, before it was called City Ballet. That’s huge, it’s productive on multiple fronts.

Courtney Escoyne:
It was also massively influential on dance history. I spent a summer up at Kaatsbaan doing the extreme ballet intensive, and we would have like academic lectures sometimes after we’d finish our eight hours of ballet. And I think like 75% of the lectures I attended were talking about specific ways that cultural diplomacy in the Cold War impacted the development of both American modern dance and American ballet. It’s fascinating

Margaret Fuhrer:
Moving on, because we have a lot to get to today. We’ve been speaking hypothetically so far, but last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a not-hypothetical plan to help the arts recover. The center of the plan is the New York Arts Survival program, which is a series of pop-up performances across the state by more than 150 artists from the worlds of music, theater, film, comedy, and yes, also dance. But there’s more to the plan too. So let’s get into what Cuomo laid out.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. So of course at this point, this was part of his State of the State Address, so we don’t have a ton of concrete details about how exactly this is going to play out. We do know that last spring and summer, New York City organized a series of pop-up performances that weren’t too widely publicized, but the idea was kind of similar. So what we’re looking at here is over the coming months, outdoor performances, performances in spaces that have flexible seating, and figuring out relatively COVID safe ways to present these works. As Margaret mentioned, over 150 artists are involved, various organizations. So this is partially get those artists working again, get the economic engines behind culture going again. Also, the state is partnering with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch what they’re calling a Creatives Rebuild Initiative. And they are essentially funding putting 1000 artists back to work to invest in small arts organizations throughout the state.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So that’s the program in broad strokes, which is the only way that we know it at this point, as Courtney said.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yes, we don’t have more details, working on it.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I do think that Ballet Hispánico was the only dance group they mentioned on the list of performers for that pop-up concert series—curious to see which other dance groups will be involved. But, so, shortly after Cuomo made this announcement, Gotham Gazette published a deeply thoughtful op-ed responding to the state’s plan. And it was co-written by two New York arts leaders, Tiffany Rea-Fisher, who’s the artistic director of Elisa Monte Dance, and then Justin Krebs, who’s the founder of nonprofit arts presenter and producer The Tank. And while they acknowledge that the Governor’s efforts were a good start, they made clear just how much more it will take to support the broader New York arts community effectively, particularly the state’s independent arts venues and collectives. Because star powered pop-up concerts are great, but they are as politicians like to say the sizzle, not the steak.

Cadence Neenan:
Rea-Fisher and Krebs did a great job of putting forward a lot of creative ideas on how Cuomo might commit to a more substantive investment in the arts. They talked about him issuing grants and loans to help small theaters struggling to pay rent. They mentioned initiatives that care for freelancers and independent contractors. They mentioned employing artists in the New York public school systems so that they’re able to provide some extra income. And I think all of this shows the mark of these people who are so involved in the New York performing arts community, that they have all of these creative out of the box ideas. And that was one of the biggest points they made to Cuomo, that he needs to be bolder and creative in his plan moving forward. They say, the Governor announced a plan to employ 1000 artists—why not 50,000? They’re really just asking him to think bigger. This is probably the biggest city for the arts in the world. So he needs to be thinking on that grander scale.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. I love that idea that legislators should be thinking as boldly and creatively about art support as artists do about their work.

Courtney Escoyne:
And I also think the very first kind of bullet point in the list that they laid out: space is sacred. And I think that that cannot be emphasized enough, particularly recording this from New York City. We need to have spaces to rehearse and perform to go back to. Right now there is obviously a lot of empty real estate that’s happening. A lot of stuff that’s going unused. And New York City has a history of favoring landlords over tenants and over arts organizations. And I think the last thing any of us want to see is them coming out of this moment and essentially using it as an excuse to further reduce the space that is available to artists, specifically dance artists who cannot do what they do without adequate space.

Cadence Neenan:
And as they point out, when we’re thinking about space, we can’t just be thinking about the big guys. I mean, we want Broadway to come back as much as anyone else. But these smaller, independent performance venues are just as important to the cultural makeup of New York, particularly for dancers and other performers who are just breaking into the business.

Courtney Escoyne:
And also like, hey, what’s up, we don’t have Hamilton without The Public. The Public is not Broadway, guys. And it’s actually one of the better known, better funded of the smaller spaces.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Without all of these different types of venues receiving support, the whole arts ecosystem is going to collapse. They all need help. I also thought it was interesting that they’re emphasizing that putting all these dance artists, all these artists period, on unemployment isn’t the best answer. We need to think bigger picture than that, that there are structural problems that need to be addressed instead of just, “Well, you’re going to be out of work. Here’s some help while you’re out of work.” And the other thing that I really liked that they did was they very gently pointed out, “We’re actually not lawmakers, we’re creators. So here are some ideas and some principles, but figuring out the actual solutions, isn’t our job. We’re not going to lay out a whole plan for you. That’s that’s your job, legislators. So go forth with our input.” I think that’s a very healthy and productive way to be looking at these kinds of problems if you were an artist or involved in the arts community.

Courtney Escoyne:
And I think if we could get more partnership, wherein policy makers are actually listening to the creative people who are their constituents, that would be wonderful.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yep. Hard retweet. So, we’re pretty much out of time. But before we end this roundtable part of the episode, we can’t help ourselves: We’ve got to talk about Harry Styles for a minute. Or rather we have to talk about a recent Billboard interview with his choreographer, Paul Roberts, in which Roberts tells the story of how Styles’ “Treat People With Kindness” video, which is just wonderful, came to be. I mean, if you haven’t seen the video yet, just pause now and take a few minutes to watch it. Harry finds the goofy Ginger to his goofy Fred in Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It’s great. But the interview reveals what the choreographic inspirations for the video were. And Cadence—I know you’re on this.

Cadence Neenan:
Really trying to hold back the fangirling. I think it comes as a surprise to no one that I’ve been a Harry Styles obsessive since the One Direction era. So I’m going to try to reel it in, but even just watching the video, I think it was so exciting to see Styles working with Roberts again. They worked together on Styles’ One Direction days. And Roberts is kind of a commercial dance legend in Britain, he’s worked on videos and tours for the likes of Sam Smith, Sir Paul McCartney, the Spice Girls. And I guess the story goes that Harry Styles sent Roberts a link to the Nicholas Brothers dance scene from the movie Stormy Weather, and basically said, “How hard would it be for me to do something like this?” And the result was one of the most just heartwarming music videos that I’ve seen in a while. I mean, we were talking earlier about how the arts have kind of soothed our souls during this pandemic. This video, for me was one of moments where I was just able to breathe and feel joy in a dark clouded year.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And just for reference—so the scene that they’re talking about, the Jumpin’ Jive that the Nicholas Brothers did in Stormy Weather, Fred Astaire straight-up called that the greatest dancing ever recorded on film. It is incredible. And just the idea of Harry Styles sending that to his choreographer and being like, “Can you teach me to dance like this?” Like, bless his heart. I mean, just bless him.

Courtney Escoyne:
There’s like this kind of level of like, beginner’s enthusiasm, like not knowing how much you don’t know, but being gung ho to try it anyway. And that comes across in the video and it’s deeply charming. And yeah, he doesn’t extend all the way through his arms and they get behind his center of mass sometimes. And I’m okay with it because it’s just really fun. And also Phoebe Waller-Bridge in that outfit—I can’t.

Cadence Neenan:
On the note of Harry not extending through his arms, I guess that Harry worked with a actual ballet teacher while he was prepping for this video. And one of the notes in particular was that Harry had to learn how to extend through his arms. And when Roberts asked him, “Are you still working on this?” On a day that they weren’t rehearsing. Harry sent a very balletic photo of him doing his arm positioning at the gym that day. And all of it is just so endearing. The commitment!

Courtney Escoyne:
And it is quite good for a non dancer. I will give him credit.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It is, it is. And while they’re not getting to the technique of the Nicholas Brothers or any of the other MGM references they were making, in terms of the energy, the overall feeling, they definitely captured it. Like, they talked in the interview about how “Moses Supposes” from Singin’ in the Rain was another major inspiration. I totally get that vibe from Harry and Phoebe—they’re definitely doing like a Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor thing.

Courtney Escoyne:
And musically, they did quite well. Like the musicality was great.

Margaret Fuhrer:
The profile also, by the way, floats the idea of Harry coming to Broadway. And I want to hear dreamcasting. Where would we like to see him, were that to happen?

Cadence Neenan:
I’d love to see him in Moulin Rouge, just because I think I would really enjoy hearing him sing all the songs that Christian sings. I also am not well-versed on Harry styles’ falsetto, but seeing him as Orpheus, I can just picture him taking over Reeve Carney’s whole aesthetic in that show. I have a lot of feelings just even thinking about that.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I think he could go there. I think he could do the falsetto.

All right, we’re going to take a short break. And when we come back, we’ll have our interview with Erin Pride. Stay tuned.

[pause]

ERIN PRIDE INTERVIEW

Margaret Fuhrer:
Our guest on the podcast this week is Erin Pride, host of The Dance Boss Podcast. Hi Erin!

Erin Pride:
Hi! I’m so happy to be here.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you so much for joining us. Erin is a dance educator and entrepreneur who is committed to teaching dance artists how to build sustainable online businesses. On her podcast, she talks about out of the box ways to support both your own dreams and the wider dance community. She also shares the stories of leaders who are, as she likes to say, crushing it. So welcome Erin.

Erin Pride:
It’s so nice to be here. I had the privilege of having you on—well, we did your interview for my podcast yesterday, so I can’t wait for my community to hear that.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We had a double header, back-to-back. Can we get started by—would you mind telling our listeners about your dance story, first of all? How did you discover dance and what was your journey as a student, and then a professional dancer?

Erin Pride:
Well, I grew up in the hood, as I like to say, in the ghetto. My parents were both educators. They didn’t necessarily live in the ghetto because they had to, it’s where their family migrated because my mom and dad both grew up in New York, my mom, Harlem, my dad, Queens. And then my grandparents came over to Paterson and my family followed. So, we lived in the nicer area, I put that in air quotes of Paterson, New Jersey, but it was a rough area. Where I actually grew up was where all of the prestigious doctors and lawyers used to live before the city transformed into a ghetto. So it was like, it changed. So even though I lived near a park, there were beautiful houses and beautiful greenery, two blocks down, there was gang violence and people hanging out on the corners.

So coming from parents that were both educators, they really valued extracurricular activity. I grew up in a house with six kids. There’s two sets of twins. I’m not one. My parents always say there couldn’t be two Erins! Well, my mom put me in dance class when I was four, because that’s what every parent does. She put all the girls in it, but I really fell in love with it. She always tells a story of how I was on stage at four being the biggest ham and knowing the dance steps. But, my parents didn’t really know how to put a child in dance who was really interested in dance. They just put me in Miss Susie’s School of Dance, they didn’t understand, hey, we have access to New York City, we can actually send her to some of the most prestigious—get her amazing training.

So my training wasn’t that good. And then, there was a performing arts high school that opened up in my town, and my parents really took the time to make sure that I had dance training because that high school didn’t have gang violence. It was by audition, and it was all kids who were interested in the arts, whether it’s drama, dance, acting, whatever. So my parents were like, we have to get her in this school, or we have to send her to a private school, because we don’t really want her intertwined in the gang violence, right? They wanted to make sure that I had a chance.

So they put me in that school and my teacher did the best that she could, but the training wasn’t excellent, right? But I got to learn that I love dance there. And when it was time to audition for college, my parents were like, “What do you want to do?” I said, well, I’m not going to college if you don’t let me dance. So they were put against a wall. My dad worked for Queens College, so there was a list of colleges that I could go to for free, and Marymount Manhattan was one of them. And, Marymount Manhattan is a great school. So it was up to me to get accepted, but once I got accepted, the tuition itself was waived.

So I auditioned for Marymount. I got in, and I did terrible there. I was the least proficient in the program. It was super rigorous. I got accepted as a BA and not a BFA. So I started telling myself I was “less than” anyway. So I really didn’t excel there. And my grades were just slipping. I really just wasn’t…I felt tons of resistance. I think I was accepted—if I’m going to be honest with you, because at the time I went to school was in ’98, so at that time I really think I was accepted to bring up the quota of African-American dancers. If I’m going to be honest, I didn’t have the skills to get into that school.

But, there’s always a light. The modern teacher at Marymount, Nancy Lushington, who danced with the Graham Company, she was the ballet teacher at Montclair State University, which is in New Jersey where I live. She noticed that I was falling off and she took a liking to me and she said, “I think it would be most beneficial for you to audition for Montclair State and get a smaller learning environment.” At this time my parents and me were like, okay, let’s try it. It’s not working out at Marymount. I auditioned for Montclair State. And the skills I learned in Marymount, when I was at that Montclair State audition, I was one of the best ones there. So here I go from being the worst to the best. Now, obviously the dancers were different, but that really built up my self esteem, right? And I was like, okay, maybe I can really excel here.

So I went to Montclair State. I got a wonderful education. It was wonderful for me because it was a small learning environment. I got individualized attention and the dancers were at my level. And of course there were dancers above my level, but I didn’t feel like I was drowning in things that I didn’t understand how to comprehend. So it’s there that I got amazing opportunities. I got a full scholarship to train at Jacob’s Pillow. Jacob’s Pillow is like the cat’s meow. I was on a work-study there, it was amazing.

And then I graduated and I thought that I was supposed to audition for Broadway because in my undergrad, what we learned was you teach, you’re a choreographer or whatever, you open a dance studio, so, or go on Broadway or whatever. So everybody was auditioning for Broadway and I’m like, this is not what I want to do. And I realized that I love concert dance, but I wasn’t booking anything big, and I thought that meant a lot of mindset—I wasn’t good enough, right? A lot of mindset there, the New York City grind.

So my parents said, “You need to get a job, we’re done supporting you.” I’m like, “What? No, I need your money. What about the money tree in the backyard that you’re supposed to always give me branches of?” And so, the dance teacher at the high school that I went to left and my parents were like, there’s a job opening up at the high school you went to, take it. I was like, are you crazy? I don’t even like kids. So I just went on the interview. I got the job and I was hired as a permanent sub. And let me tell you the first day I taught those kids, I fell in love. I always like to say that they chose me, I didn’t choose them and God did me a favor and was like, nope, you’re going to love this. This is your calling. So for many years I was like, this is what I want to do. And I love those kids. I love them so much. I love teaching my kids. They’re my kids, because they come from the hood. They don’t have all of the opportunities people have and I’m able to train them and get them into prestigious colleges. I went in that program and I redid it to match my undergrad program. I wasn’t playing. I’m like, my babies are getting into some of these prestigious colleges, no more rinky-dink technique at this school. So, that’s what happened.

And then I got the performance bug and I was 35 years old. I was in a relationship, and I thought I was going to get married to him. Don’t know why I just told you that, but it goes into my story. Pilobolus, my favorite dance company in the world, had an audition, and I told him that I wanted to go. And he’s like, “Are you crazy? You have a full-time job and you’re too old.” Thank God I didn’t marry him, right? Who wants that kind of partner? And I went. I was like, screw it. I don’t care what you have to say. And that’s the type of person I am. I went to the audition. I made it all three days, the last day I got cut.

One of my mentors, Andrea Kramer from Ballet Forte in New Jersey, she said to me, you need to email them. You need to thank them for just seeing you for those three days and you just need to let them know that it was a privilege. And I did that and they emailed me back and they said, we loved you. We want to offer you a full scholarship to train with us in the summer. 35 years old! So I train and then, little did I know it was their way of seeing deeper if they wanted me to work with them. Now, Pilobolus has two companies. They have the main company and then they have their contracted company where they contract dancers to do shadow work. So they hired me to do shadow work with them. So I actually got hired at the age of 35 to dance with them.

And I like to tell that story because that just explains the path of my life. I’ve always been somebody who takes chances, who doesn’t take no for an answer, who lets people guide me and I believe in mentorship. And it’s from that, that amazing opportunities have happened, and I’m just so grateful that I was able to lean in and not take no for an answer.

So long story short, I did it for about two shows with Pilobolus, then I was like, I’m with these 20 year olds, I really just don’t want to be on tour. This is not fun, touring at 35 was not fun for me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s hard on your body, yeah.

Erin Pride:
Yeah, that was short-lived. And then, yeah, then my performance ended and the rest is to be continued.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Well, I mean, first of all, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the scope of that story. First, you answered my next 15 questions, which is fantastic. But I also, I want to talk, too, about that next step. So what inspired you to start The Dance Boss Podcast? What was the “aha” moment where you said, This is a different direction, this is maybe a path that I haven’t seen before that I’d like to explore? Because as you were saying, we’re trained that there are only certain paths to follow, but it seems like, and especially in your case this is true, your greatest successes happen when you think outside of those boxes.

Erin Pride:
I’ve always been a person of vision. Somebody asked me this—and this will tie into why I started The Dance Boss Podcast—somebody asked me, have you always been a person that saw a vision? I’ve always been a person who dreamt and thought I could achieve it. So there was a time in my teaching where I honestly can tell you, I just love my kids, but teaching wasn’t for me anymore. I looked at the long-term of…Somebody once said, look at your boss, if you don’t want their job, you need to rethink what you’re doing. And everybody was saying, Erin, go for your principal certification, you’ll be an amazing principal. And I started my master’s to be a principal and I’m there and the woman is like, if you’re sitting in this classroom and it’s not something you’re a “hell yes” about, this is wrong for you. And I dropped out. I didn’t want to do that.

So I was just feeling called to share my voice and do other things. And then I went—oh my God, I’m such a master’s degree dropout. This is funny. I also went to Hollins to start my MFA, because along my journey, I got my master’s in education from NYU. When I had no clue what I wanted to do, I was like, okay, so the next logical step is to get into the collegiate level and be a professor. But with that, you need an MFA to do it full time. I only had a master’s of dance ed. So I started the Hollins program for my MFA, and I was like, I don’t like this either. Okay, I’m leaving. And I left.

And then one of the people from the Hollins program posted something on Facebook. They said, I’m going to be on The Dance Podcast. And they wrote a little blurb about it. And I checked it out. I checked out the interview and I stopped in my tracks. I was like, wait, what is this thing called podcasting? You can share your message on audio and people listen and it’s interesting and it’s engaging? And I was like, I want to do that. And I had no clue what that meant. All I knew was like, that was my next step. And that’s all I needed.

So I truly believe that going to Hollins gave me that little nugget to listen to The Dance Podcast, which gave me the little nugget to start The Dance Boss Podcast. And then I like to say the rest was divine. I think I was laying on my couch or my bed and the name Dance Boss Podcast came to me. And from there, I just started writing an intro blurb and from there everything got fleshed out. I got my $50 microphone and just started hitting record. And I was like, I’m just going to share on my expertise of running successful classrooms, because I was really good at it because I came from a K-12 setting. I understood all of those ideologies. And I also understood from a master’s perspective how to make students excel, right? Because that was my whole goal, making underserved students excel so that they can get into high performing or esteemed college program.

So that’s where I started. And then I said to myself, this still isn’t it. What I really want to do is help people pursue their dreams and be educated on how to do it in a successful way. And since then, The Dance Boss Podcast has then translated into that and that’s where my journey is now.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You’ve said that you love to talk about the what, the why, and the how of dance entrepreneurship. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by that? Would you describe that as your mission statement, or is there something else?

Erin Pride:
No, I think that you nailed it, the what, why and how. So, what I learned along my journey and from working with people and even working with my students is we believe that the only way… First of all, with my students, I kept seeing the same thing, these amazing artists and these amazing humans being developed not wanting to pursue any actual performance or teaching career, but still wanting to be involved in the arts, but not being educated on how. So, I was like, this is something, if my students are feeling this way, then other people must be feeling this way. So I really started to play with the idea of, how can I use my platform to educate dancers on the possibilities beyond performing, teaching, and choreographing? What are the other possibilities? So that’s the “why,” right? Why do you want to do it? Why do you want to bring in additional revenue streams for yourself? Why do you want to build out your own income and all those things?

And then, I wanted to dive deeper into, okay, so you know what you can do, but how do you do it? How do you do it in a successful way? And that’s why I really invested in my education on online business development. When the pandemic hit, I was like, okay, here’s everybody in their mama that has a dance background having to start an online business, but how do they do it successfully? Because I’ll tell you this, I didn’t get training on money as an artist, right? I didn’t even understand, when I left college, I didn’t even understand, okay, I’m going to contract for all these dance schools, what the hell do I put on my taxes? How do I claim myself? Wait, what is this? How much do I have to… I just wasn’t educated on it, and I was living paycheck to paycheck. And then, I made a decision that I wanted to become educated on that, and then to support artists to get educated on that. And more importantly, when they’re building these online businesses, what do they have to be doing with their money to make it sustainable? Sure, you can get a cash injection from 10 kids that register for your online dance classes, but how do you stack your income and look at it for the longterm so that you’re continuously bringing in revenue and you’re continuously growing? So that I guess is the mission now of The Dance Boss Podcast.

Margaret Fuhrer:
There’s such a hesitance in the dance world to even talk about the money side of things. College dance programs, which are so great at preparing students artistically, they turn out these brilliant artists who then don’t know how to support an artistic career. And I find that endlessly frustrating, which is why I think that people like you are so important to this community. Can you talk about some of the most important things, financially speaking, that you wish dancers knew about running a business?

Erin Pride:
Absolutely. Well, first of all, get yourself an accountant, get somebody who is going to help and stand by your side. Don’t try to do the taxes by yourself. Get educated on it. Get yourself a bookkeeper. A bookkeeper is not just about, oh, I brought in $10 this month, I brought in $11. No, a bookkeeper that is a good bookkeeper is going to help you look at the health of your business, the profit, the loss, and all of the things. So that’s number one, invest in that. That is so important in your business because the bookkeeper’s really going to teach you how to think long-term about your financial success. And they’re going to help you understand if what you’re doing is actually going to get you to the revenue that you desire. So, that’s that.

And then the second thing I would think about is, it’s a big thing with artists: pricing, right? We as artists—or I, let me speak to myself as an artist—always price from a place of emotion. Like, yeah, okay, $50 for that. Yeah, that sounds good. Or to set a piece, just putting a price out there and not really looking at how what I’m charging is going to get me to my financial goal and not looking at how many I have to bring in of whatever I’m charging and how often I have to bring those in. It’s not sexy, right? It’s so freaking boring, right? And artists don’t want to put on that hat, but it’s really about looking at your income from a place to move you toward your financial goal and curriculum, and designing it backwards. So whatever your financial goal is, creating what your offers are and your services and pricing them to meet that over the long term. And trust me, it’s not about just getting quick fixes of money, it’s about building your financial health and your financial wealth. And what I like to tell artists, it doesn’t matter—a lot of people get very consumed by what they see other people doing online. This person saying, oh, I make $10K a month… No. I have a client that I work with who’s like, no, I want to make $4k. That’s going to pay my bills, make me happy, and I don’t want to work that hard for it. Okay, $4k, let’s figure it out. Get really true about what you want to make money for. Some people I work with don’t even have a personal budget—get a personal budget. It’s all of those things.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I love the point that you made a little bit earlier about, don’t be afraid to ask for help, bring in other experts. You don’t have to be the expert in everything. That’s okay. Because I feel like that does run counter to our dancer mindset of, you have to be self-reliant, you have to be the person doing it all. And it’s so important for artists to hear that no, actually having a community around you, paying for support if you can, that’s also okay. That’s also necessary so much of the time.

I also wanted to talk about what qualities… I mean, I think we like to say in the dance community that dancers can do everything. What qualities do you think do make dancers especially good businesspeople? What skills do they learn in the dance context that they can then bring into that side of their life?

Erin Pride:
Oh my gosh, we are the people meant to do it. We are the creatives, right? We have the discipline. We understand that growth doesn’t happen immediately even though in our training, we wanted it to, right? So those are all the skills. You have to have discipline, you have to be willing to take corrections. You have to be willing to ask for support the same way you ask a teacher, hey, I don’t get this concept, how can I improve it? You have to be resilient. Be able to bounce up when things don’t go right. A performance sucks, you got to be able to come back and get on a stage the next night.

So I think that we are the people that are made to create sustainable online businesses. It’s just about letting the ego go, being humble and saying, okay, I really want to do this. I really want to build financial support for me and my family in the longterm and have this additional revenue stream as an artist. I don’t know how to do it, so I’m going to get support to build it the right way.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. It feels like the digital avenues and outlets for dancers, they’re almost limitless these days. Which in many ways is fantastic—there are so many opportunities for growth. But it also makes it really difficult, especially as you’re trying to start a new dance business, if that’s what you’re doing, to stand out in the online space. So what is your advice on that front? What can dancers do to make their brands, make their products, really stand out in the crowd—which is only bigger now during the pandemic, because everybody suddenly has an online hustle?

Erin Pride:
Absolutely. I talk about this a ton in DancePreneur Academy. Listen, what do I invest in? I invest in business coaches, I invest in clothes, I invest in makeup—and I don’t invest in everybody. I don’t care if there’s 20 million makeup brands out there, I know which one I like and which one calls and speaks to me. But I want the listeners to let go of the mindset block that there’s too many people. It’s not too many people, what’s wrong is you don’t know how to share your message. And we talked about this when you were interviewed on my podcast. You have to understand how you write and what kind of tone you want. You have to be willing to repel some people in order to call in your people. I know, I remember in high school I was the person that I wanted everybody to like me and I had very big growing pains, right? And it was like, I became a chameleon for all these different friend groups to fit in. And that’s what people do in the online space. You want everybody to like you. Well, that’s actually hurting your business. When you get really crystal clear about what are your values, what are your beliefs, what do you stand for, then you’re able to call in the right people for you.

And the other thing is really honing, I like to call it your spark. Have you ever seen as a teacher or as a performer, have you ever taught kids in a class and everybody’s great, everybody’s at this really amazing level, but there’s something about this one student, you can’t take your freaking eye off of them? You just love watching them? And the beauty about that is me and you could be teaching the same dance class and two different students will do that for us, right? So what you want to be able to do is, what’s your spark? If you’re a dance studio owner, what sets you apart? What makes you you? So that when you start to tie that into your content and start to tie that into your message, then you’re going to call in the right people.

Margaret Fuhrer:
How have you seen the online dance business world evolve and change during the pandemic? Because it seems like that must’ve presented both challenges and also opportunities for people.

Erin Pride:
Yeah, I like to say there’s two types of people. There are either people that I saw in the dance industry who moved online because they had to, right, because they had to have a digital or online portion of their program. Or there’s people who, because of the pandemic, were like, oh wow, I have this laying on my heart and I want to achieve it. So I see those two different people in the online space, and I actually love that. Okay, I don’t love the pandemic, but I see blessings in the pandemic. We are definitely going into this digital age, and I don’t think personally when the pandemic is over that we’re going to rewind and go back to how things were. What’s going to happen is that being online is going to give you the capability to serve more people, impact more people and bring in more money for yourself.

Margaret Fuhrer:
This is a bigger picture question. You like to talk about stepping into what you feel called to do. And I think a lot of dance people, we start out as dancers, and that’s such a clear calling to follow. But then maybe we have a harder time figuring out, once we leave the performing world, as you were talking about with your own journey, what is our next calling? Or it might feel scarier to start down that path, if we have a sense of what it might be, because maybe it’s a less obvious or less direct route than the traditional train/audition/get a job dancer route. So what advice do you have for dancers who are struggling with those kinds of situations, who are trying to figure out how to step into that next calling?

Erin Pride:
I would just say you got to let go. Because it’s probably not what you expected it to be, right? Did I think I was going to be here coaching other dancers how to start online businesses? No! I was first a performer—no, first a student, then a performer, then a teacher. And I guess what moved me, and this is the only way that I could give advice, is I just knew in my heart that I wasn’t happy. And it just became leaning into the next apparent steps and fumbling along the way and getting mentors, because I value education, because I value perspective shifts. I value people who, like you said, helped me see my blind spots. So just leaning into the fact that you’re not happy and leaning into the fact that change is on the horizon and just taking the next steps to figure out what it is.

Margaret Fuhrer:
This is another huge question. What would you say are some of the most important lessons that you’ve learned from your own ventures, from the podcast, from your coaching, from your teaching? What are the biggest things they’ve taught you?

Erin Pride:
That the most important thing in life is to understand how to be a leader, a leader for yourself and a leader for others. That doesn’t mean that you have to be someone who wants a team of employees or anything like that. That means, how do you want to lead yourself? How do you want to show up in your life? Setting boundaries, aspiring to do new things, whatever it is, that’s so important. And I’ve learned that personal development is so important. I don’t know. I had so many breakthroughs when I stopped resisting and started leaning into exploring what else is out there in the world. That’s what I think it is.

I think my biggest breakthrough is, this is all an exploration. There’s no expiration date on it. The podcast was an exploration. This business I’m doing is an exploration. It’s not like I’m trying to get to an end result. Although I have goals I want to reach, I’m just here exploring how I can always be better and do better. And I think that was the biggest learning lesson for me, because when I first started my business—I am a high achieving person and if I don’t watch out, I can be driven by ego, right? So I always had to check myself and just do the work so that I could let those things go and start to enjoy the process instead of letting the process dictate my happiness.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. I love the idea of creating your own definition of leadership. Sometimes we hear about creating your own definition of success, but investing in yourself as a leader and figuring out the type of leader that you want to be is such an important part of achieving that success. And people don’t talk about that as much.

So, finally, you’re this incredibly gifted connector. You’ve built this beautiful network, especially through your podcast, highlighting all of these extraordinary people, these extraordinary businesses. So as a connection expert, can you recommend some of your favorite resources for dance educators and dance entrepreneurs—podcasts, websites, brands that are crushing it?

Erin Pride:
Of course. I love Apolla Performance. Apolla Performance is the Shocks company, basically shoes and socks for your feet. And I just love not only their product, but I love their mission. So let me tell you a little bit why I love them, because I didn’t even have The Dance Boss Podcast, and they put out a calling on Facebook and they were like, any teachers want to try the Shocks? And I was like, yeah, shoot, free stuff, I’ll try it. They sent them to me, I loved them. I was like, I’m wondering if they’ll sponsor the podcast. Right away, I wrote them an email, they said, yeah, we’ll sponsor it. But since then, I have developed such a beautiful relationship with them, and to watch the things that they are doing for the dance community outside of selling their product is just moving. So I think it’s just a brand to know, to really look inside and see all the cool things they’re doing.

The other brand I really love is Doctors for Dancers. Jen runs that along with her sons, and it’s just this really cool organization that helps you find a dance specialist in your area that helps you get treatment on whatever you need.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Such a brilliant idea.

Erin Pride:
Yeah. So I love them. Who else? There’s so many. The Dance Podcast, I think you should check out. That is the podcast that, like I said, inspired me to start a podcast. It’s just a really amazing one. But on the note of being a connector, just explore with curiosity. That’s it. There’s so much cool stuff out there. You just got to get interested in to see what’s going on.


Margaret Fuhrer:
Erin, thank you so much for sharing all of your insights with us. Please be sure to subscribe to The Dance Boss Podcast, it’s available on all the major listening platforms. You can learn more about Erin and all her projects at her website, erinpride.com, including—actually, do you have an upcoming DancePreneur Academy? Is that starting in January?

Erin Pride:
Yes. My DancePreneur Academy is my four-month group coaching program. It’s a small group, I’m only taking five dancepreneurs, because I come from an education background. As you know, I like individual attention. I want to make sure that’s me and your business. It’s for anybody who wants to start, grow an online dance business. And over the course of four months, I teach you how to do that. And I do it from an educational standpoint. I don’t say do it this way. I say, here is what it is, here is how it would help your business, but let’s figure out how to adapt it for you in the life season you’re in. So if you’re interested in applying, you can actually go over to my Instagram @erinpride. I’m always up in Instagram, and you can click the link in my bio. Yeah, I would love to meet you.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Great. We’ll include links to all that, all of Erin’s social accounts in our episode description, so you can properly keep up with her and all those platforms too. Thank you again, Erin. So nice talking with you.

Erin Pride:
Thank you. You’re doing amazing work and it’s been an honor.

[pause]

Margaret Fuhrer:
I had such a good time talking to Erin. Again, please be sure to follow her on Instagram @erinpride. And by the way, as we mentioned, there’s actually another half to our conversation. You can hear her interviewing me about all things, dance journalism in episode 116 of the Dance Boss Podcast, which is available wherever you get your podcasts.

All right. Thanks everyone for joining us. We’ll be back next week for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning. Keep advocating and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:
Mind how you go, friends.

Cadence Neenan:
By everyone and treat people with kindness.