Vermont Dance Alliance Celebrates Past Successes and New Leadership | Performing Arts | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont Dance Alliance Celebrates Past Successes and New Leadership

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Mary Chris DeBelina - COURTESY OF JAMES JONES PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy Of James Jones Photography
  • Mary Chris DeBelina

When Mary Chris DeBelina moved from Philadelphia to Montpelier in 2015, she brought her young family, lots of enthusiasm and a desire to connect with the state's dance artists. When she discovered the Vermont Dance Alliance a few years later, a world of opportunity opened up.

"VDA for me was a huge part of connecting to dance in Vermont and connecting to friends in Vermont," DeBelina said. She recalled participating in some of the nonprofit's annual events and drawing on its resources for a performance: She and Vermont artist Willow Wonder advertised and promoted a 2019 show via the VDA website and outreach channels. Since then, through multiple interactions with VDA members, "I think my network has grown," said DeBelina, who became VDA's executive director in July.

Mary Chris DeBelina - COURTESY OF JAMES JONES PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy Of James Jones Photography
  • Mary Chris DeBelina

That outcome is precisely why a group of volunteers launched the VDA in June 2016. Artists, partners and sponsors joined together to shepherd events, provide education, and expand the visibility and accessibility of dance in the state.

The organization has come a long way. Just past its fifth anniversary, the VDA has new leadership and a membership roster that includes more than 150 dance artists, service partners, patrons and sponsors. Annual memberships range from $70 to $140.

Though the pandemic proved challenging for all artists, VDA's online offerings, including weekly classes taught by members, grew its capacity to support dance enthusiasts throughout the state and attracted others from as far away as California.

On October 9 and 10, the VDA hosts Falling Open Festival, a free, virtual, two-day event "to reconnect, inspire, and unite the Vermont and New England dance community," producer and former VDA executive director Hanna Satterlee wrote by email. Open to the public, the workshops, performances and a brunch conversation session aim to build on the nonprofit's momentum.

"We are really expanding and growing," said new VDA board president Joy Madden. Online offerings have "broadened our reach: People from all over the world could suddenly see what our members were doing." A spring member survey confirmed the VDA's appeal, she said, and guided its expansion of online offerings and creation of a scholarship to make activities more accessible.

Through the VDA website, instructors statewide currently list in-person and online classes and workshops in everything from hip-hop and improvisation to aerial dance and Argentine tango. Dance artists also use the site to advertise performances and to connect with each other and with partners, such as venues and lighting designers, and supporters who provide financial and in-kind assistance.

The VDA hosts four annual events to bring members and the public together: the outdoor dance festival TRACES, a member retreat, a symposium and a gala show.

Joy Madden - COURTESY OF KAREN PIKE
  • Courtesy Of Karen Pike
  • Joy Madden

The former managing director of the Boston Dance Alliance and a longtime choreographer, performer and VDA volunteer, Hinesburg's Madden stepped into her new role in July. She and other board members are working with executive director DeBelina to meet new inclusivity and fundraising goals.

"When I think about inclusivity, I think about age," DeBelina said. The mother of four children under age 12 and an instructor of movement for people with Parkinson's disease, she'd like the VDA to bring more dance to children, families and seniors. She envisions collaborating with studios that cater to children, connecting with other artists who have children and expanding offerings at local senior centers.

DeBelina holds multiple degrees in dance and has been teaching youth and adults since 2005. A devoted stay-at-home mom and passionate community builder, she applied for the directorship because she believed that her skills would be helpful.

"I love VDA," DeBelina enthused. "It's a connector, promoter, lifter-upper."

Joy Madden - COURTESY OF JEFF VOLZER
  • Courtesy Of Jeff Volzer
  • Joy Madden

She knew that many dancers have trouble with fundraising and self-promotion. But, she said, "I really like spreadsheets and numbers. I really like math and talking things up.

"The crux of this position is fundraising," DeBelina added, "making sure we have money to support the artists and to support these programs."

DeBelina, Madden and the board are raising funds for multiple purposes. "It's very, very expensive to make dance performances, and it's very hard to recoup that expense," Madden said. Fees for rehearsal space, venue rentals, lighting, costumes and music add up. "We want to take the financial burden off our artist members as much as possible."

They also aim to raise funds to pay dancers and choreographers who wish to collaborate on projects. The nonprofit already serves as a fiscal sponsor for artists by providing financial management and administrative services.

"We are really the only dance organization of our type in the state," Madden said. "We focus on advocating for dancers and making it as easy as possible to grow audiences and to make dance much more visible throughout the state."

She noted that the VDA serves everyone, not just dancers who perform. "Dance is a body-based art," she said, "so everyone can dance, everyone can move, everyone can participate in it to some degree." People may feel left out because of their age or health or abilities, she said, but "we want to be very welcoming and accessible to absolutely everybody."

As Satterlee put it back in the VDA's early years, "The more people who join and take part, the bigger and more vibrant the Vermont dance ecosystem becomes."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Step by Step"