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new york times

Aug 26, 2021

Sequins and Soul-Searching in the Competitive Dance World

That slow pace of change pushed Olivia Zimmerman, 23, to develop Embody Dance Conference. Beginning this weekend, the new dance convention — its competition debuts next year — aims to create “a safer and more inclusive dance community.”

Zimmerman grew up in competitions and conventions and worked as a competition director for a dance studio. Embody, which began as her college thesis, is thoroughly ambitious. This weekend’s event at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut will feature seminars for dancers on antiracism, mental health and gender. (The TikTok dance star Charli D’Amelio will discuss social media’s impact on mental health.) Cogliandro’s the Dance Safe will lead workshops. Classes will not divide students by gender, and participants will specify their pronouns. Accommodations will be made for dancers with disabilities.

The faculty will include transgender artists, Frederick among them; several people of color; and mental health professionals, including the dance artist and therapist Breanna Myers. And — perhaps most revolutionary of all — though Embody is currently a corporation with a nonprofit arm, Zimmerman plans to eventually run the whole endeavor as a nonprofit.

Only a few hundred people have registered for Embody’s first convention. But Zimmerman hopes to pilot a model other events can then adapt. “This isn’t proprietary,” she said. “We’re not trying to make money off ‘being the change.’ I want everyone to follow suit, so that in five years, we’re just another convention.”

Sequins and Soul-Searching in the Competitive Dance World

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