Interview with John Bedford about Dance and Arts Management

Oklahoma City University hosts probably the only graduate education, which combines dance and arts management. Dirk Heinze made an interview with the director of this course, John Bedford, not only with questions about the course itself, but also about the latest trends in the dance sector.

AMN: The dance enjoy great popularity especially among the young audience. What do you think, is the reason for this popularity?

John Bedford: At Oklahoma City University’s Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management, we specialize in educating and preparing dancers and managers for careers in the global entertainment industry. So, my view about the popularity of dance is from a theatrical, "show business" perspective rather than from a non-profit concert dance view. In recent years in the United States, competitive dance programs on television have been a tremendous audience success. An example would be “Dancing with the Stars” in which a professional dancer is partnered with a celebrity to compete with other celebrity/professional couples. Couples are eliminated during each broadcast over a number of weeks until one couple remains. The celebrities provide a tremendous attraction for viewers, particularly young viewers, who then become interested in the dance as well. Because of the large viewership, other television producers have begun creating dance reality shows, such as "Step It Up and Dance", which has featured one of our own graduates, Nick Drago. For "Step It Up and Dance", the interest of young audiences is magnified by free videos available on the web.

The televising of international ballroom competitions has spawned a resurgence on interest in ballroom dance performances as something beautiful and intriguing to watch and as an enjoyable and rewarding activity. The many dance conventions and workshops in the United States and internationally have provided many young dancers with opportunities to study from excellent and prominent teachers in a multitude of techniques. These are held in many different cities, so the participants are able to mix travel with taking dance classes and participating in dance competitions.

Another area of special interest to young audiences, at least in the United States, is Broadway. Over the past 15 or 20 years, New York has transformed into a lovely city to visit, and Broadway has experienced a large measure of revitalization. Disney has become a major producer on Broadway, and characters and dance performances seen in films can be experienced live at a Broadway show. Film and live stage productions around the same concept and theme have a synergistic effect leveraging audience awareness, interest, and attendance.

AMN: Your course is unique in the world with the combination between dance and arts management. Is there a special management qualification necessary for the dance sector?

JB: We began our Bachelor of Science in Dance Management program in the early 1980's to support a wide spectrum of career interests of dancers. The goals of dance management majors are diverse, ranging from "I want to have a performing career, but I want to be able to better manage my career and myself" to "I do not want to have a performance career, but I want to work as a manager with a dance related organization" to "I want to own and operate a dance studio or academy" to "I want to be a company manager for musicals or dance companies" and more. In addition to daily classes in tap, jazz, ballet, and theater dance, Dance Management majors have significant studies in the humanities, business, and arts management. They get significant hands-on experience in production management, touring, stage management, house management, event coordination, fundraising and producing. Regardless of personal career goals, all applicants to our Dance Management program must be dancers and must audition to be considered for admission. We require ACT or SAT college admission tests and certain minimum composite test scores for eligibility to audition. The minimum composite score requirements for Dance Management are greater than the minimum required score for our dance performance degree program.

In the United States, most managers of dance and other performing arts organizations have not had formal, systematized training for the positions they hold. We have been providing a systematic approach to preparing managers for dance for over 24 years. As an aside, we offer a Bachelor of Science in Entertainment Business for those who want to be arts managers in fields other than dance.

Edith Kinney Gaylord Center, home of Oklahoma City University’s Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management

AMN: Will all students in Oklahoma go into the dance sector after their study? What your students do exactly after leaving your course?

JB: No. The education and experiences we provide open our students' eyes to many employment opportunities in the entertainment industry and in cultural and charitable organizations. We have had dance management graduates who have become staff members of major symphony orchestras, arts councils, theatre companies, cultural heritage museums, opera companies, arts service organizations, school arts programs, artist agencies, musical theater production companies, theatrical and sports facilities, and more. Many also have found employment with dance companies such as David Parsons Dance Company, Chicago Tap Ensemble, New Jersey Tap Ensemble, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Tulsa Ballet, Western Arkansas Ballet, Houston Ballet, Ballet Oklahoma, Eliot Feld Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet School, Push Factor, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Dance Anonymous, Giordano Dance Company, and Hubbard Street Dance Company, to name some.

AMN: Which changes and challenges the dance sector is confronted with regarding financial or audience matters?

JB: Dance for the entertainment industry operates within market forces, where the production provides value to ticket purchasing audiences, or the production changes to satisfy audience needs so that there will be a ticket purchasing audience. In the entertainment industry, there are no grants or subsidies from government, so the producer must be mindful that essentially the sole source of funding for the production will come from the sale of tickets.

In the United States, ballet and modern dance companies face increasingly difficult challenges for having sufficient funding and audiences. Ballet and modern dance companies, which historically have been dependent on state and federal grants to reduce their annual operating deficits, have faced severe cutbacks for nearly 25 years, starting with the Reagan Administration. Over the same period of time, entertainment, cultural, and leisure-time choices have grown exponentially. So, there are many more activities and events competing for the same audience dollars.

Ballet companies, it seems to me, are in general challenged to be relevant to even the culturally experienced and informed. Their financial plight keeps them captive to annual productions of "The Nutcracker" where much of the audience attends as a holiday tradition and ritual rather than out of love for the dance. The development of energetic and effective boards remains a challenge for many companies. Finding financial and audience support for staging inspired dances from promising choreographers is a particular challenge.

AMN: Do you think there is still a big difference between the dance and ballet scene? Do you target both scenes with your course?

JB: We prepare our Dance Management students to manage effectively for dance of every kind in any venue. Our graduates can manage dance on cruise ships, in Las Vegas casino shows, theme park shows, television commercials, musical theater tours, Broadway shows, and for ballet and modern dance companies.

AMN: How national or international is your course?

JB: Our specialty is American dance and our affinity is the commercial entertainment industry. Our program requires extensive written projects and real-time hands-on production team work. So, our English language proficiency requirement is relatively high – a minimum TOEFL score of 600. While our affinity is the commercial entertainment industry, we include a significant non-profit arts management component in our program. Non-profit arts management is strongly tied to the United States tax code and our cultural tradition of volunteerism. Naturally, our tax code and resulting organizational structures and behaviors would not be easily transferable to other countries and cultures.

We have found that some international students have difficulty with the concepts of marketing arts activities. For example, a student from a country with an authoritarian government could not understand booking conferences or the need for them. Understanding booking conferences was fundamental to a major course project. She told me, "I do not understand … in my country, the government must approve everything, and if it wants the dance company to tour, it will tell the theater managers that they will receive it."

We do not teach how arts and culture are managed in many different counties. But, we have arranged arts management tours to other countries to expand our students’ knowledge and perspective on managing the arts in other cultures. For example, in 2005, we took a delegation of arts management students and faculty to Beijing to meet with executives of 17 different government agencies and arts organizations to learn about how China manages arts and cultural and how it is working to realize its stated goal of becoming the center of arts and culture in Asia. We have made multiple visits to the United Kingdom to meet with a variety of arts executives, theatrical producers, and arts council directors.

The fundamentals of creating a vision and implementing it through planning, organizing, staffing, directing, control, evaluating, and adapting seem universal, and we teach these in spades. The processes for creating and mounting productions is universal. So, we have much to offer to students from other countries if they are adaptable and have the necessary English proficiency to function well in our fast-paced and demanding environment.

AMN: Thank you, John, for your time just at the end of the Academic year!

Author/Source: An article by Dirk Heinze, editor-in-chief, Arts Management Network
Management Topic: Education & Development
Cultural Area: Theatre+Dance
Submitted by editor-in-chief on May 09, 2008