Autobiography of a Dance Blogger

[Originally posted at All World Dance circa 2011.)

Since I’m returning my focus to All World Dance, I think I should share my personal and professional history as a dancer with you, dear readers!

I started dancing in high school in the mid-70’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. I sang in vocal ensembles and choirs from preschool on but my first dance performance was around 1976 in The Music Man at Raleigh Little Theatre. I really enjoyed it and started to take a few tap classes and ponder a possible future in musical theater.

high-riskIn 1977 I went to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as an English major because I didn’t get into the music department and also loved to read and write poetry. Nevertheless, I kept singing and decided to take some dance classes in preparation for the possibility of doing more musicals.

That freshman year I took a modern dance class with a grad student in the dance department, Ron Paul, who was, in many ways, at his peak as a teacher of beginners and whose clarity in teaching basic technique enabled me to progress quite rapidly from a somewhat awkward state to that of a serious beginner. Ron passed of AIDS-related illnesses in the mid-90’s and I’ll always miss him.

Later that year I declared as a dance major and entered the program the following year ultimately getting a BFA in Dance in 1982. I also spent a year during that time at SUNY-Purchase which had a great dance program but would have kept me in school for a few more years and I wanted out. Sometimes I regret that decision but we make our choices and must live with them.

From 1982 to 1989, I spent most of my time in either Raleigh or Durham, NC performing with small local groups, choreographing my own work, working with my then partner (both personally and professionally), Virginia Webb, studying Laban Movement Analysis in Seattle, making connections between art and politics, reading poetry at open mics and doing a lot of really cool stuff that made for a rich life though not for a very public profile beyond local settings.

In 1989, I moved to San Francisco where I soon began dancing with an old college buddy, Rick Darnell, in his men’s dance company, The High Risk Group. It was a time of incredible learning for me and the peak of my dance experience. I loved Rick’s work. I enjoyed dancing with the various men and occasional women with whom we worked (even the difficult ones!) and got a strong taste of what it meant to be a professional dancer. We performed quite a bit in the Bay Area, often in rough settings on the street or in art spaces with cement floors, and also made brief trips to other parts of the country to participate in a variety of events, primarily performance art festivals, where we were often one of the few dance companies.

And then I made what turned out to be the worst decision of my life. I decided to go to grad school, even though I didn’t really understand much about what that really meant, and left San Francisco when it was at a peak of countercultural and alternative arts activities. For folks that weren’t there, it’s hard to explain what we had and what we lost in the 90’s as the tech boom drove up the rents and drove so many arts spaces out of business and my friends out of town.

I then undertook an 8 year journey through grad school that included a disappointing semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an MA in Dance Studies at UNC-G and a PhD in Cultural Studies with a focus on Dance Research at the Ohio State University.

I could say a lot about that time but the short version is that higher ed is an incredible mess. Most faculty members seem in denial and are incapable of addressing what needs to be addressed and often make matters worse with their sense of entitlement and disconnection from anything outside of academia.

One of the few bright spots was my work with Sue Stinson at UNC-G who truly enabled me to become a researcher just as Ron Paul enabled me to become a dancer. I will always be grateful for her guidance and support.

In the following decade, the first of the 21st Century, as I struggled with unemployment and the recognition that my doctoral experience set me up for failure in getting an academic position and that my doctoral advisor was sabotaging my efforts, I found the web and that has been my savior.

During my first year out of grad school, I began to write a bit about hip hop in Greensboro, NC, where I lived for a year. After my second piece was turned down by the publication that commissioned it, I decided to put it online and thus began my minor career as a web publisher which ultimately led to this blog, All World Dance.

Along the way, I received the most attention and notoriety for a blog called ProHipHop, the first hip hop business blog in existence though that became a growing category in subsequent years. I suddenly found people in places like New York were paying attention to what I said and it didn’t matter so much where I was as the quality of work I produced. Nobody could fire me. Nobody could censor me. While that led to lots of mistakes on my part, I learned a great deal and eventually sold that site a little over a year ago.

While I have some other web projects happening, they are all gradually falling by the wayside as I focus on writing for a music industry blog, Hypebot, occasionally blogging at Flux Research and now returning to blog at All World Dance.

When I recently decided to curtail activity at All World Dance, I felt a profound sense of disappointment. This was my return to the world of dance after over a decade away except for minor performances here and there. Not only that but All World Dance has attracted an international audience of dance enthusiasts. Though some are involved with dance professionally, most are actually simply lovers of dance, just the kind of people I hoped to reach.

It’s such a thrill to have visitors from almost every nation on the planet and Facebook fans from all over the world. In fact, once you get past the initial group of friends that signed up for the All World Dance Facebook page, the majority of folks have been from outside the U.S. and they all seem like really interesting people. I like to think they represent the true audience for this blog and I’m really happy to be returning and reconnecting with my readership.

So I’ve said perhaps too much, as is often the case when I have something real to say, but I hope this post gives folks a better sense of where I’m coming from and why this blog is not just a potential business but is also a deeply meaningful part of my life.

Thanks for reading and feel free to be in touch!

Clyde Smith

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