It Started with S'mores.
I’ve always aspired to someday create a Summer dance gathering. An event where artists can workshop ideas and share their works-in-progress. A community space, where artists have access to classes, conversations, and performance opportunities. A Jacob’s Pillow, of sorts, right here in the Midwest.
I imagined tackling this well into the future. And I never expected it would happen so soon. Then the pandemic hit and my spouse and I moved from Chicago to Door County.
In January 2022, I extended to a few friends: “Would you want to camp out and show what you’ve been working on in a Covid-friendly environment?” I was purely testing the level of interest. The volume of enthusiasm was inspiring. It was clear, we missed creating work, we missed showing work, and we missed each other’s company.
It was time for us to gather again.
I started crafting emails and making phone calls. Before I knew it, this informal, one-night performance snowballed into a full-blown festival: a pop-up performance at a hip farm-to-table restaurant, a pavilion performance on a beach, an improv jam at a local farm with live music, classes in two different village halls, and a roundtable discussion with published author/artist/scholar Sarah Wilbur on the current state of dance- all of which was free and open to the public. This “camping trip” exploded. And there you have it: Death’s Door Dance Festival.
I have a brief window to reflect on this festival, one created on a whim in a mere 6 months. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, “a few friends” with a “one-night, informal engagement” turned into a joyous weekend of learning, sharing, and dancing with old friends while creating some new.
My mission to create a free public dance event was accomplished. The community classes that were designed to be inclusive (all ages and abilities) had great turnout. Sunday’s conversation, “How Dance Works, Now,” was filled with not just artists but the public as well. And the closing event, The Improv Dance Jam, opened its doors for all bodies to celebrate...and they did.
Saturday’s forecast: “chance of rain at 10pm.” Optimistic, we opted out of a rain date. A local business offered a bunch of umbrellas “just in case.” Four works in, it started to sprinkle. Then it started to pour. To my surprise, the artists danced and the people stayed. The spirit of Pina Bausch perhaps?
The evening closed with Visceral Dance Chicago’s “Ash in Rainbow.” As they bowed, the sun peeked through the clouds. And there it was, a double rainbow arching over the bandshell. We danced through the rainstorm and people stayed to enjoy it. It was clear: Dance matters.
Death’s Door Dance Festival- If we build it...it will become...and it will grow.
And, by the way, no one camped.