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Flash View, 8-2: Act Up
Steps for Saving Dance Criticism -- and Dance -- in New York

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

NEW YORK -- New York Magazine's decision to stop reviewing dance and can eminent critic Tobi Tobias has potentially drastic consequences for journalism and the arts in New York City and the United States, signalling that for at least one major mainstream cultural publication, dance is journalistically disposable, even in the dance capital of the United States.

"I think I speak for all of our members when I say this is distressing news," said an alarmed Karyn D. Collins, chairman of the Dance Critics Association and features writer and dance critic for the Asbury Park Press. "Dance is a vital part of New York's cultural life. It is baffling and disturbing that New York Magazine has apparently made this decision, particularly when the dance scene in New York is considered such a major capital of the dance world."

As the news, confirmed to the Dance Insider by Tobias and the magazine, began to zoom around the world via the Internet yesterday, so too began the letters to Caroline Miller, the editor who decided that that one of the two leading weekly cultural magazines in New York City could no longer afford dance criticism. (A puzzling justification, considering that Primedia Inc., the corporate media giant that owns the magazine, reported "essentially flat" revenues for the second quarter of 2002, the revenues of $422 million representing neither a net loss nor gain. In other words, it ain't losing money.) Miller's insistence that the magazine will still cover dance with features, listings, and previews rings hollow; one would hardly write about a painting without seeing the painting. While dance journalism is served by a legion of gifted feature writers, news reporters, and those dedicated expanded listings writers who have at most a hundred words to tell you why to go to a performance, these are all at best adjuncts to actual criticism. They help to get people to performances and expand our knowledge of the background of the work of art, but essentially they don't describe it. And I speak as dance journalist who is more feature writer and news reporter than critic.

That New York Magazine could thus turn its back on dance is even more astounding because a general interest publication more typically takes pride in providing blanket coverage of the major industries in its home town. The decision by the 431,000-circulation magazine is thus a blow not only to the dance world, but to the publication's own prestige.

The optimism of those who want to try to persuade the magazine to change its mind should certainly be encouraged. To send a letter to Ms. Miller, please click here. You can also send a FAX to Miller or to Alan Katz, the magazine's publisher, at 212-583-7516, or call them at 212-508-0700. If you want send them snail mail -- or, what the heck, picket the magazine's offices -- its address is 444 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022.

You can send a FAX to Tom Rogers, Primedia's chairman and chief executive officer, at 212-745-0121. You can call him at 212-745-0100. And, you can also send Mr. Rogers an e-mail care of Laura Brounstein, Primedia's director of corporate communications, by clicking here.

Besides fighting for what we appear to have lost, it is also critical -- CRITICAL -- that we act to preserve and protect what we still have. I'm speaking principally about the dance section at the Village Voice, edited by Elizabeth Zimmer and where Deborah Jowitt is the senior critic. In recent years, the dance section has faced reduction. You can signal your support of Jowitt, Zimmer, and the dance section most of all by ADVERTISING your concert in the Voice. (That's strictly my opinion.) I don't wanna hear, "I can't afford it." We can't afford to lose Deborah Jowitt either. There's no current threat that I know of -- but let's act this time before the threat emerges. If you're financially strapped, get together with a couple of other companies and/or presenters and take out a group ad. When you book an advertisement, make sure you tell them that you are advertising in the Voice because you want to reach the wide and influential audience that reads Deborah, Elizabeth, and the other writers Elizabeth is able to squeeze in every week. As well, please visit the Village Voice web site, do searches for 'Jowitt,' 'Zimmer,' and 'dance,' and read read read as much as you can. Your hits on the Voice's dance articles will also demonstrate the vitality of the Voice's dance coverage and its popularity. You don't need to be in New York to do this.

Dance insiders, we are facing a crisis in dance criticism -- and therefore, in dance -- of mammoth proportions. Breast-beating and reacting after-the-fact is understandable but it is no longer sufficient. We need to start acting defensively now to preserve what we have left. Act up! (But be polite.) Forward!

PS: It's no secret that Tobi Tobias's dance criticism, which can be acid when she sees something she doesn't like, has rankled some dance artists. Please -- PLEASE -- don't let this deter you from supporting her and fighting to help her regain her podium. The stakes here are much greater and graver than our own egos. I would also argue that, if anything, severe dance criticism is proof to the world that dance is not some fragile frou-frou faun who can't take the hit, but a strong art whose vibrancy only shines the brighter when it withstands tough criticism. Also, be fair to Tobi as you would expect her to be fair to you. To read examples of her criticism, please click here.

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