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Robert Abrams
Special Focus
East Coast Swing
Martha Graham Studio Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Martha Graham School Scholarship Bash and Benefit 2017 - an innovative evening that brought the modern and social dance worlds together

by Robert Abrams
September 19, 2017
Martha Graham Studio Theater
55 Bethune Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10014
(212) 229-9200
The 2017 benefit for the Martha Graham School was a historic event. A modern dance company taught a social dance lesson (taught by Graham dancer Abdiel Jacobsen), and most of the crowd of concert dance dancers and fans gave swing dance a serious try. By all appearances, they had a good time too. After the lesson, they danced some more. There is a chasm between people who social dance and people who dance or attend concert dance. One of the premises of ExploreDance.com is that if we can bring the worlds of dance together, the field of dance as a whole will be stronger and more durable. Great credit is due to the Martha Graham dance company and school for making a valiant, and successful, effort to help bring the modern and social dance worlds together.

It was also true, though, that after the lesson the number of people on the dance floor tapered off sooner than I would have preferred. It is often said in the field of food research, which is my other hat, that people have to be exposed to a new food an average of 12 times before they will try it. The first time is often the most difficult to do, so the Martha Graham dance company and school are well on their way to providing a lasting service to the dance community. They just need to repeat the benefit 11 times. (The lesson was originally supposed to be Salsa, so that could be number two right there.)

Now, having organized benefits and conferences, I know what they are thinking: "We have to organize a benefit as fabulous as this one every month for a year?" That would be impractical. But something on a smaller scale, with a $20 per person ticket price rather than $150 per person, might be feasible on a regular basis. (And sometimes in the early afternoon on a weekend day so people can bring their kids, hint, hint.)

In addition to the dance lesson and social dancing at the end of the evening, the benefit included wine, a featured drink of the evening, finger food (bite sized and flavorful) and short excerpts of Graham's dances performed by students at the Martha Graham School. The excerpts would pop up unexpectedly at various times and in different parts of the space. There was also a silent auction. Oh, and people actually talked to each other. You really couldn't ask for a better event in support of the regular work of the Martha Graham company and school.

After the event was over, I realized that while the unusual format of the benefit was intended to support "real" performances (a "normal" benefit for a dance company often has a show, followed by a reception), the unusual format of the benefit could be the thing itself: a new category of performance, like a cabaret or a tablao, but with the dances intermixed with the hospitality and the social conversation.

And then I realized I had seen this performance and party format before, exactly three nights before. The Alma NYC dance company had presented a music salon that featured live music, drinks, food and spontaneous short dance performances, all intermixed with genuine conversation among a diverse group of people passionate about the arts.

This performance and party format needs a name. I suggest "Paradao". It is based on "parada/o" which means "standing up" in Spanish. It follows the construction of "tablao", the format for flamenco shows where the audience sits at tables while eating and drinking and watching the show. "Tablao" is based on "tabla" which is "a piece of wood", and which is what you make a table (or a dance floor) from. "Paradao" is intentionally in contrast to "Tablao", where people sit at tables. Searching Spanish dictionaries online, "parada" also can mean "unemployed", which we can use to our advantage by saying that when we are at a party or are dancing, we are not working. Parado can also mean passive or motionless, which isn't quite right, unless we are referring to stillness, which is often a positive quality in dance, especially some forms of modern dance (and classical Indian dance for that matter). So perhaps we could modify Paradao to "Paradao musica" or "Paradao habla" or "Paradao danza" or "Paradao baila" or "Paradao baila y habla" depending on what art at the standing party you want to emphasize. Or "Paradao mixto" to emphasize the mixing together of the evening's elements. By combining the female and male forms of the word, it implies that at a Paradao, everyone is welcome: female and male, professional dancers and fans, social dancers and concert dancers… And "Paradao" sounds a little like "Party", and a little like "Paradise" which is what it feels like when a party goes really well, so that is a useful multi-lingual confluence too. Or someone could come up with a better term.

Whatever you want to call it, the 2017 Martha Graham School Scholarship Bash and Benefit was a culinary, conversational and multi-dance success. The next time the Graham dancers throw a Paradao, buy a ticket and bring your dance shoes.
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