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For regional American ballet dancers, the offseason is a reality that brings reprieve from months of strenuous work. But the summer lull also ushers in artistic and financial frustrations.

While some resign to months of unemployment and scrabbling to stay in shape, several dancers are refusing to let the offseason just happen to them.

A group of dancers and choreographers gather in Northern Michigan each summer to create new dances with the Traverse City Dance Project. And, in Denver, dancers with Wonderbound keep things going with their dancer-produced project, “Industrial Project” — the production touts the tagline “Because we don’t believe in an offseason.”

These artists aren’t alone.

A generation of dancers, poised to soon take the resigns of leadership in American dance, are adopting this mantra of self-empowerment.

{Dd} chatted with a handful of these entrepreneurial artists about their respective DIY projects.

From a quaint mountain town in North Carolina, to a thriving southern city, and a mid-western metropolis, these individuals are taking what they learned from their time as performers to form their own artistic ventures.

Ballet Austin II performing Wavemakers by Jennifer Hart​ (Photo: Tony Spielberg)

Ballet Austin II performing Wavemakers by Jennifer Hart​ (Photo: Tony Spielberg)

Igniting Austin

Choreographer Jennifer Hart and Ballet Austin dancer Edward Carr first worked together in 2007 on a project that would later be performed at the choreographic competition Ballet Builders in New York City. This launched a creative partnership that would bring them back together every subsequent summer.

This weekend marks the inaugural performances of Performa/Dance, a project-based dance company in Austin, Texas for which Hart and Carr are co-producers.

“We launched Performa/Dance with the intention of being able to create and perform work that we are passionate about,” Hart says.

Hart and Carr hope their fervor for dance can translate to audiences in Austin, and get the community more excited about new choreography that exists outside the “Swan Lakes” and “Nutcrackers.”

But the premise for the project goes beyond simply getting more audiences interested in dance.

Performa/Dance is built on the goal to boost the dance community from the inside out and provide artistic and financial opportunities for dancers during the layoff season.

“We always want to work,” Hart says. “With all the down time between seasons, creating our own company keeps us working and exploring.”

For now, Hart has no immediate aspirations to launch a full-time company and prefers to keep Performa/Dance as a summer engagement for dancers.

“For now, I’m keeping it as a sort of playground for trying new ideas with little worry about outcome,” Hart says. “I believe some of the best work comes out of that freedom.”

But the process, thus far, certainly has Hart and Carr thirsting for future offseason collaborations.

Performa/Dance makes its debut during “IGNITE: Three Works,” June 13 and 14 at Austin Ventures Studio Theater in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit PerformaDance.com.

Yumelia Garcia and Ogulcan Borova perform in Kansas City Dance Festival 2013 (Photo: Courtesy KCDF)

Yumelia Garcia and Ogulcan Borova perform in Kansas City Dance Festival 2013 (Photo: Courtesy KCDF)

Cultivating international dance in Kansas City

In spring 2012, Anthony Krutzkamp and Logan Pachciarz were relaxing on Pachciarz’s porch in Kansas City, Missouri, musing about how they were going to spend their summers.

“We started talking about how we wished there was something to do to bring dancers together, get them off unemployment, and give them good repertoire to dance,” Krutzkamp says.

Kansas City Dance Festival (KCDF) was born out of this conversation.

Now, in its second year, KCDF has grown from 12 to 20 dancers – hailing from companies like the Joffrey Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Nashville Ballet and, of course, Kansas City Ballet — and features the work of nine different choreographers.

By bringing in dancers and dance makers from all over the country, KCDF intends to be a medium for the “cross-pollination of artists,” a phrase frequently employed by both Krutzkamp and Pachciarz when talking about the festival.

“I knew that we were creating something special when we first started working on the project,” Pachciarz says.

But this isn’t simply a passion project.

Both are tapping into their artistic minds, but also cognizant that they are building a business.

The festival has a small board with a couple of advisers. Dancers are financially compensated and provided with Workman’s Compensation insurance. And important administrative work, like branding and marketing, is given significant thought and time.

While the two are plentiful in their praise of their cohorts, the bulk of the work still lies on Krutzkamp and Pachciarz. They wear many hats: teacher, coach, director, administrator, fundraiser, choreographer, collaborator.

“It’s a learning curve,” Krutzkamp says in regards to running the festival. “But it’s like learning a new ballet; it feels awkward at first, but then you start to feel more comfortable.”

They both have mighty aspirations for KCDF, hoping it will give attention to Kansas City as a hotbed for the arts. In the near future, they’d like to see the festival be comparable to the likes of Vail International Dance Festival or Jacob’s Pillow.

It may be overwhelming and frightening. But, ultimately, something the two are excited about.

“Sometimes you have to work 24/7,” Krutzkamp says. “But when you see the final product come together, you have this feeling like, ‘wow, we did this.’”

Pachciarz adds, “That is my new horizon, something that I am looking forward to experiencing.”

The second annual Kansas City Dance Festival runs June 20 and 21 at the UMKC Helen F. Spencer Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. For more information, visit KCDanceFestival.com.

Motion Dance Theatre 2014 artists (Photo: Parker J Pfister)

Motion Dance Theatre 2014 artists (Photo: Parker J Pfister)

A choreographic laboratory in Western Carolina

Nick Kepley is a former colleague of Krutzkamp and Pachciarz, having danced with Kansas City Ballet during his performing career.

He is also no stranger to {Dd}.

He spoke with the publication last summer about launching his summer dance company, Motion Dance Theatre, in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina five years ago.

“With Motion I was looking for a way to offer a more relaxed approach to the choreographic process and a chance for choreographers to practice their craft and get better at it,” Kepley says.

This relaxed setting transcends to the dancers.

Kepley strives to keep the work environment fun and not to serious, but also maintain professionalism.

“It’s the summer and the dancers need a chance to ‘let their hair down,’” he says. “But, over the years, I’ve had to learn to strike a balance. Sometimes I have to walk in that studio and just be the boss. And I think they appreciate that. They deserve that leadership.”

With several summers under his belt, he has a deeper appreciation for the many factors that go into running a company and making crucial business decisions. He is also focused on defining what Motion is, what Motion can be and what it brings to the community.

“As I began planning the 2014 season, which will be our fifth anniversary, I really started to think long-term,” Kepley says. “This year, I’m really working to develop concrete ways that Motion can facilitate that inspirational process in people.”

Kepley also takes note of his colleagues that share this editorial space with him as well as his other contemporaries working around the clock to make a difference in the dance industry.

“I think it’s so exciting that all these projects are launching and that we’re all working so hard to give each other more opportunities to create,” he says.

Motion Dance Theatre’s 2014 season runs July 11 and 12 at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville, North Carolina. For more information, visit MotionDT.com.

Written by Stephanie Wolf

Stephanie Wolf

An Atlanta native, Stephanie Wolf has performed professionally with the Minnesota Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, and Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado). She has a BA in Liberal Studies from St. Mary’s College of California. Her writing has been published in national and regional media outlets, including Dance Informa, Indianapolis Star, and the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Currently, Stephanie lives in Denver, where she is a public radio producer and reporter. She loves bluegrass, cooking, Netflix, and owls.