Gathering in front of computer screens, students and alumni from USC’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance are teaching a week’s worth of classes from across North America to raise money for the Black Art Futures Fund.
SCCC President Win McCain, a senior double majoring in dance and political science, said the idea to host fundraising workshops came from seeing other students, companies and dance studios conduct their own classes during the summer. McCain worked with the rest of the collective to get the workshops together early in the semester, collecting a roster of teachers that could instruct on a broad range of styles, creating marketing materials and organizing Zoom links for the 15 classes throughout the week.
Sidney Ramsey, a senior double majoring in dance and health and the human sciences, taught a ballet class for the week-long event. She said the workshop not only raised money but also provided an opportunity for creativity outside of USC classes during the semester.
“We’ve been able to offer dancers access to training right now when most schools and studios are on break,” Ramsey said. “So I think that not only is it raising money for a great cause, but it’s also really helping a bunch of students all over the place to stay in shape over the break.”
Class prices have a suggested $5 donation to the organization’s Venmo account. All the funds collected will go to the Black Arts Future Fund, which is dedicated to elevating and preserving Black art and culture by providing grants to small nonprofit organizations with an operating budget of $750,000 or less.
McCain said the decision to raise money for the fund grew after seeing the pandemic’s impact on BIPOC artists. In combination with the continuously growing Black Lives Matter movement, the collective aimed to support Black artists with the workshop fundraiser and will continue to support artists of color in future ones throughout the school year.
“With a lot of brands — a lot of bigger organizations — a lot of smaller artists of color often get overlooked in terms of receiving funding for their work,” McCain said. “So we were looking at a variety of organizations and one thing that we really like about the Black Arts Futures Fund is that specifically, they work to provide grants for smaller nonprofit groups, so smaller artists are able to receive this money to fund their work, which I really liked.”
Each school year, SCCC fundraises towards a specific cause. During the 2019/2020 school year, the group partnered with Dancers Responding to AIDS to raise money for the organization through fundraisers like choreographic showings.
The core value of the collective is advocacy through choreography and dance. Ramsey found the opportunity to use her artistry to teach rewarding and encouraging.
“It was kind of overwhelming to have people from all these different parts of your life or people that you’ve never even met, but were all coming and giving you the respect and acknowledging the fact that they feel they have something to gain from being in the class,” she said. “It made me very appreciative of where I am and who I am surrounded by.”
SCCC Vice President Elise Monson, a junior majoring in dance, explained that the workshops provided dance students an opportunity to learn from their peers as opposed to their professors.
“To learn from each other has been a really great change,” Monson said. “I feel like I’ve learned so much already. The things that people are talking about, I haven’t thought about before. So it’s been a really nice change of pace.”
Since March, the dance community has adapted to the virtual world to continue teaching and creating through Zoom and other live-streaming platforms. Similarly, SCCC had to think of new ways to fundraise.
“I think that this is something that I personally would have never had the idea to do,” McCain said. “Had it not been for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have ever thought to do something like this. I also think that dancers are a lot more receptive to doing online workshops now.”
Once they announced the workshop, Monson explained that current students and alumni shared the post, showing the support for the organization and desire to participate and spread the word about the workshop.
“Seeing how people are promoting it and how alumni who aren’t still involved in the school want to share it, how they want to not only have people come and take their class with other classes but also support the organization,” she said. “I feel like it’s been a very good bonding and community-building experience within Kaufman and those involved in the workshop.”
Online workshops have connected dancers from across the country, and sometimes the world, to take classes with their favorite choreographers. This virtual setting has also given the collective the ability to connect to a larger community.
More importantly, McCain believes the workshops have proven that dance has political power in social change. From his point of view as a political science and dance double major, he said the advocacy aspect of the organization showed how “we’re the ones who get the conversation started.”
Next semester, SCCC aims to continue its advocacy efforts through more virtual events like a drag show fundraiser and a site-specific show with USC Visions and Voices — both of which McCain said is in the works.
Seeing the winter workshop come to fruition and launch on Dec. 14 has been the highlight of the process for McCain and the collective.
“I feel incredibly lucky, and it’s kind of like how the universe obviously works out,” he said. “I feel very lucky with the 15 teachers that are teaching this, I could not have picked better people to learn from.”