• Matthew Miller

For a contemporary dancer, rehearsing is a challenge. You need space, often a lot of it. The space needs to be danceable (e.g. hardwood floors). And the space needs to be affordable, because—this goes without saying—dancers don’t really make money from dancing. Enter on the scene local choreographer Tahni Holt (co-founder of "FRONT" newspaper), who is opening a new non-profit dance center in Portland to address some of these challenges. It will be 1600 sq. feet housed inside Disjecta. Named Flock, the studio will be home to eight other choreographers, and it's different than the other dance centers out there. Here's why: (1) it's primarily a rehearsal space (not a performance space); (2) it's a space devoted to a group of specific artists; (3) it's housed inside of a pre-existing performance/exhibition space. Construction on the space (part of which used to be Vestibule Gallery) is currently in progress, with a launch date in March. I sat down with Holt recently to get the deets.

It’s mostly you that’s been spearheading the space?
Yes. But in all of the information about the space, it’s very much a ‘we,’ because there are 8 other choreographers with me: Tracy Broyles, Danielle Ross, Allie Hankins, Lucy Yim, Dawn Stoppiello, Stephanie Lanckton, Kaj-Anne Pepper, and Deanna Carlson. Those are the members.

Do you screen people who want to become members?
This first round, I curated it. They’re people who are incredibly rigorous. There were interests of diversity, but the big umbrella is that they’re experimenting in the form. They’re working on a very contemporary, current level. Also, I’m not just interested in having nine artists working in North Portland, and not having a way to access the larger community. I’m interested in having an integrous educational component to the space. There’s a time on Saturdays dedicated to classes and workshops. The first class is going to be a workshop taught by myself, Linda Austin, and Linda K. Johnson, which we received a Precipice grant for, to offset costs for participants. It begins April 12 and inaugurates the classes at Flock. Another component to being a member, is that the amount of time they get—they are welcome to teach a class in that time. Kaj-Anne Pepper has talked about these radical once-a-month classes that might happen at midnight. These classes are stemming from their own personal curiosities about the creative process. One of the major things that’s different is that I’m not taking a cut from how many students show up—members pay a flat rate, and they use that time however it works best for them.

You pay to be a member?
Yeah, you pay to be a member, monthly. And they’re signing long-term leases, so that means they’re not doing it per project. The idea is, when I am working on a direct project, because of my finances, I start to rehearse. When I’m done with that project, I end rehearsals; I stop paying, until another project comes up. What is so great about having your own space, for the longevity, is that you actually get into rehearsal space without having a project. It changes everything—you show up because you are an artist, and you’re waiting for something to percolate. It makes the work stronger.

When did you start looking around for spaces?
It was about a year ago, and it came from the desire to be able to lay roots—even though I’ve been in Portland for most of my adult life. Being a new mother, I felt like suddenly I wanted to invest in a solution to some of the issues I was having with the practicalities of my practice. I contacted Bryan (Suereth, director of Disjecta), and he came to me with a proposal—his proposal was really exciting; it was a testament to his support and commitment—dance needs a big open space, and there are very few places where you can actually find that. Most developers want to maximize how much money they can get per square footage, so it gets cut up—that’s one thing dancers are continually having a problem with. It’s an amazing commitment that Studio 2 is able to offer affordable open space. That Conduit does. That Headwaters does it. That Performance Work Northwest does it. It takes a community of people to really believe in dance for space to be available.

Fundraising has come in the form of—
Fundraising has come in the form of trying to pointedly ask people in the larger art community to contribute money. To do the buildout, to install the floors, to buy the floors. To buy new hardwood floors for 1600 sq feet—it’s 20 thousand dollars. Just to give you an idea. We are not installing a new floor. It is a refurbished gym floor. I have been in a major fundraising campaign for the last 8 months. Now I’m about to go to Kickstarter, which is asking the larger community for money—the last thing that I wanted to do was put more burden on all of us who are barely making any money as it is. My goal was to get as much of the foundational money as I could from specific people. I have a very robust and generous VIP club. It’s been very successful, and very exhausting, and just a little bit stressful.

Where did the name (Flock) come from?
I landed on Flock because there’s an exercise called flocking. It’s an improvisational exercise, where whoever is in front is the person you follow.

Like baby birds following their mother?
A baby bird follows a mother no matter which way it’s facing. That’s leader and follower. It’s different than that: you have a group of people, and if you change directions, now someone else is in front, and you change directions again, and someone else is in front. For me the exercise represents that there’s not really a lead—that we’re all a community. We’re all working at this together. It’s also this organic, freeflowing idea that feels very Northwest to me.

What about it feels Northwest?
It’s poetic. It’s outdoors. It’s organic. I wanted it to be a little playful too. I wanted it to be simple, not too heady. And, I was like, “wow, can I actually put a bird on it…so Portlandia.” And I was like, “Yeah, I can fucking do this.”

Did you look to others who have models similar?
I really didn’t model it after anything else that was out there, I modeled it out of what I wanted in my own dance practice. Then I tried to find other examples to see: can this function? Chez Bushwick (in Brooklyn) has something similar. Miguel Gutierrez was one of the founding members. It’s not exactly like Flock. It’s not as cheap as our space, and it’s also not reserving that space for making a really deep impact with nine people. It’s trying to make a lesser impact with more people.

I know, for visual artists, you can share a studio, and all be in the corner working on something. But with dance, it’s only one choreographer in the space at a time?
Dance studios are very challenging financially, because you can’t have 20 people paying for creation space. You could have 20 people paying for a class. So creation space is incredibly hard to hold space for and find, and that’s why I’m really excited about Disjecta’s involvement, and how they’re helping with the buildout, and thus making it possible. It equals out to under $5 an hour, so it’s incredibly cheap. And I’m excited that there’s eight people who are really willing to try this with me. I think the model does not exist now, and it needs to exist, and this is the time for it to exist.

Tahni Holt assesses the buildout.
  • Sean Barrett
  • Tahni Holt assesses the buildout.

The buildout begins on Flock, inside Disjecta.
  • Sean Barrett
  • The buildout begins on Flock, inside Disjecta.