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Jacksonville University’s “DanceForge” to bring together pros in unique retreat

By Phillip Milano 

Dance professionals are born to share. With their audiences, at least.

Among themselves, it’s too often a different story. When it comes to collaboration, dancers, instructors and choreographers aren’t always ready to put their best foot forward, so to speak.

That’s where DanceForge comes in.

The unprecedented four-day retreat in November at White Oak Plantation in North Florida, sponsored by Jacksonville University with a grant from the Howard Gilman Foundation, will bring experts in dance together to learn from one another and develop white papers on best practices to be released worldwide.

“We’re launching a global initiative bringing leaders in dance education together in a think-tank setting to wrestle with the hot topics of the field,” said Bill Hill, dean of JU’s College of Fine Arts. “At times there are barriers to sharing because people want to maintain their originality. But now we are seeing a desire to collaborate.”

Part of that desire comes from a dynamic move occurring in dance today toward becoming more interactive with its audience, but other topics related to the artistic process, new instruction methods and arts funding will be discussed as well, he said.

For example, just as some aspects of classic dance are codified to create standards in forms such as ballet, possibilities may exist to create a uniform language for other forms, such as modern dance.

“That’s where the benefits of bringing folks together to share will then be spread out among many others,” said Hill.

The event Nov. 24-27 will feature 50 professionals and five facilitators cloistered at the Mikhail Baryshnikov Dance Studio and its surroundings at the exclusive White Oak, which is in Nassau County, said organizer Cari Coble, a former professional dancer and JU’s MFA choreography coordinator.

JU MFA Choreography Coordinator Cari Coble

“This will really get the word out about what we’re doing here at JU as well,” said Coble, who developed DanceForge after noticing a vacuum of collaboration and consensus in the industry. “It’s another step forward in the role the college is playing nationally and internationally in dance, and comes on the heels of the renowned low-residency MFA in Choreography program introduced at JU three years ago.”

DanceForge will feature discussion and intensive workshops to improve the discipline and bring together emerging educators, master faculty, practitioners and administrators from around the globe to expand the theory and improve the practice of dance in the 21st century.

A registration fee of $525 will cover lodging and meals at White Oak Plantation, with its 7,400 acres of pristine woodlands on the St. Marys River 30 miles north of Jacksonville. The plantation includes White Oak Conservation Center, a premiere wildlife breeding, research and training facility.

Those interested in the retreat should visit http://mfa.ju.edu/danceforge/ to apply. A host committee will select up to 50 attendees, and there is an early application deadline of Oct. 15.