Taking Dance to the Next Level in Grand Rapids

Taking Dance to the Next Level in Grand Rapids

Michiganders might not be terribly surprised to hear about Grand Rapids’ flourishing arts scene. But even those in the know might be unfamiliar with ArtPrize, an annual competition and 501(c)(3), and the role it plays in contributing to the vibrancy and diversity of the local creative community. The competition, which has been held since 2009, brings artists from around the globe to GR to display their work– and to compete for prize money. In 2014, one of the 1,537 entries and winner of the time-based jury award (and $20,000!), was none other than local dance collective Dance in the Annex, or DITA.

Photo by Erin Wilson
Photo by Erin Wilson

DITA founder Amy Wilson created the collective in 2009 in order to foster an appreciation for contemporary dance in the Grand Rapids area. Wilson realized after teaching at different studios and at the Grand Valley State University Dance program that “there was something missing,” and she set out to change that.

DITA now works as a “project-based collective” of not only dancers, but musicians and other artists as well. Wilson is a strong proponent of collaboration between different types of artists, and believes it is important to surround oneself with a community of positive, diverse people15429773117_12016e2a09_o. Wilson’s husband, Erin Wilson, the director of the Wealthy Theatre, says that he and his wife tend to gravitate toward people who “let the bridge down” and are an active part of the process.

Dance on film is one of DITA’s main mediums. This means choreographing, filming, editing, and sharing their work through film and technology. Reproducing dance in a different medium can make the art form more accessible to a broader range of people who might not be typical theatergoers, and also allows for more creative cross-pollination. The films that DITA has created thus far can be seen as a sort of arty history of Grand Rapids: Some of the films’ settings are no longer open to the public, creating a way for locals to see the history and spaces of their city through the art of dance. Amy and Erin are both highly invested in the community of Grand Rapids. They said that they have thought about leaving the city many times over the years, only to realize that what they have created for themselves here would be impossible to recreate in any other place. Erin says: “Early on, you move places to find a system to apply yourself. We couldn’t move, so we created [our own] system.”

Photo by Erin Wilson
Photo by Erin Wilson

Regarding his wife’s work, Erin says that there are two important goals that all artists inevitably have to choose from, the first being to make their art accessible to the people, and the second being to make it “evolve into a complex being.” He says that Amy, through DITA, has done the impossible by doing both.

The couple agrees that being a young and blossoming artist in Grand Rapids can be tough. When asked to give advice about getting a foot in the door and finding a community to thrive in, they both agree that the most important thing is to “find your people,” and “be where you are.”

Photo by Erin Wilson
Photo by Erin Wilson

Since winning the $20,000 last fall, Amy says they aren’t sure what to do with the money. So far they have used it to invest in new equipment for their films, but other than that, they don’t have any big plans for it yet. And though you won’t be able to vote for DITA in this fall’s ArtPrize, Amy will be curating the SiTE:LAB exhibit. DITA will also be offering many master classes and dance workshops throughout the summer.

Where would you like to see Dance in the Annex film next?