2023 ArtSpark Files : Ten Tiny Dances® by Whitney Willis Hebert

Portrait of Whitney Hebert

December 22, 2023

Back in April 2023 we packed about 150 people around a stage two nights in a row at the Feed N’ Seed downtown and watched ten outstanding dances choreographed by ten local artists. I assume most of Lafayette hears “dance performance” and thinks of studio recitals— big stage, tutus, glitter, budding dancers. Welllll, this wasn’t one of those shows.

Ten choreographers. Ten dances. One tiny 4×4 foot stage. Yes, you read that correctly.

Ballerina wearing shiny gold dress on pointe dancing on the tiny 4x4 stage.

Photographer: Paul Kieu

Ten Tiny Dances® was created in Portland, Oregon in 2002 and continues to be produced by founder Mike Barber and others, with permission. An experiment in confined space, Ten Tiny Dances is a performance series dedicated to fostering inventive dance/performance art and providing an accessible performance experience for a diverse audience…all on a 4 by 4 foot stage.

As limiting as a 4×4 surface area may seem, I often find that limitations produce more creativity. Most of the choreographers mentioned that this particular limitation brought out an element of playfulness. What I was most delighted by was the variety that came out of this show, which ranged from classic modern to contemporary ballet to vogue, and then something about a costume made of balloons and bubbles being blown by the entire audience…

A performer on the 4x4 stage dressed in a full body costume made of balloons being shot at by bubbles

Photographer: Paul Kieu

Barber’s format is really quite ingenious on several fronts. The requirement for ten choreographers means more opportunities for people to create. Then some of those choreographers choose to set their work on others, so that means opportunity for dancers (and non-dancers who’ve always wanted to be onstage) to perform professionally. Then some choreographers like to work with local musicians, so that means opportunity for them as well. So, this not only opens lots of opportunities for work, collaboration, and performance, it also doubles as community building. Then when it’s time to perform, ten choreographers + dancers + musicians equals a wider audience base, therefore, more awareness for everyone’s work, more connections, and just more fun all around.

For this first round of Ten Tiny Dances, I carefully chose the ten choreographers I wanted to work with. They are all not only established artists, but they are wonderful people whom I trust, whose work I admire, and most importantly people I knew would come together seamlessly and uphold an easy, peaceful, fun, and stimulating work environment. While this show format gave a lot of autonomy to each artist in the sense that they could work separately and on their own schedule, there was a lot of natural overlap and feedback happening between choreographers that really brought this group together.

Performers, dancers, choreographers and host who participated in this project pose for a photo

Photographer: Paul Kieu

This was my first crack at putting an entire show together by myself, which was intimidating. I’ve directed several times before, but have never been on the back end of organizing venue, sponsors, etc. Putting on a show (even a Tiny one) costs a lot of money. We were fortunate to have some wonderful sponsors for the show, but the ArtSpark grant was integral in ensuring that every artist got paid what they deserved. We are lucky in our arts community that a lot of people are willing to help each other out through favors and trading or just contributing their work because it’s a good outlet or opportunity. But I was determined to not rely on generosity and was thrilled to have the ArtSpark funding to fully cover artist fees! It’s a gift to have this grant in the Acadiana area. For those like me who aren’t ready or aren’t interested in pursuing a 501c(3) or LLC status, it can be difficult to find grant money for your projects. So, I highly encourage Acadiana artists to apply for the grant. It can open a lot of doors!

The ArtSpark grant has been an integral part of my development as an individual artist. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive the award twice, now. It supported my first-ever solo production in 2018, a contemporary dance show called THIRST as a part of Acadiana Center for the Arts- Residency @ The Center program. Since then it has led me to a closer relationship with the AcA and its staff who have not only been very accommodating but very encouraging with my work. This cycle of ArtSpark led to conversations about the AcA’s NXT series, which aims to support the growth of local performing artists creating significant new work in their discipline. I applied for the series with a new show in collaboration with my brother, composer – Reid Willis, for a mixed media performance featuring his new album and my choreography. I’m honored to say our application was not only accepted, but bumped into the AcA’s Spotlight Series! So, a big thank you to the AcA for continuing to be a huge support and resource through my career, and stay tuned for our Spotlight performance of “Sediment” coming August, 2024.

Will I do Ten Tiny Dances® again? Yes!
I am hoping for Ten Tiny Dances® to be a continuing series—either annually or every other year. It’s such a fun show and a great way to bring people together and have artists showcase their work in a casual, quick-fire kind of way. So, stay tuned for more in the future!

A final BIG thank you to ArtSpark and LEDA for making this show possible as well as our collaborators and sponsors:
Wild Child Wines, KiKi, Morgan Street Dance Company, Tsunami, Broussard & David, llc, Scratch Farm Kitchen, Paul Kieu Photography, Elliott Construction, A Dannette Boudoir Photography

Photographer: Paul Kieu

ArtSpark is a competitive grant program supporting individual artists in Acadiana, by providing technical support, funding and entrepreneurial training to artists in various fields. These awards offer assistance to emerging, mid-career, and mature artists for specific, short-term projects with a component of community outreach and a focus on the artists’ and/or communities economic development with the support of Opportunity Machine. This program is committed to ensuring Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility, with particular focus on Black artists, Indigenous artists, artists of color, as well as those artists with disabilities, in order to expand their bodies of work as professionals.

Funding for this program is made possible by Lafayette Economic Development Authority and National Endowment for the Arts, and is administered by the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

The next round of ArtSpark will open on January 8, 2024. More details at: https://acadianacenterforthearts.org/opportunities-for-artists/artspark/

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