Dance as a Learning Platform

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Funding Received: 2012
Chicago, IL
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 21, 2013

When we first conceived of Dance as a Learning Platform, one of the many goals of the project was to increase Hubbard Street’s relevance in the business community.  We hoped that by partnering with Chicago’s start-up community, we could build greater engagement with dance as an art form and also use Hubbard Street’s 36 year history and reputation to shine a spotlight on the work of emerging tech companies.

We knew that press coverage of the project would be a key strategy to achieving this goal, and we were frustrated that repeated efforts to pitch the partnership with 1871 were modestly successful, at best. Then this happened:

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago branches out to thrive in a troubled economy
By Sarah Halzack, Published: October 11 in the Washington Post

The hallways of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s studios are decked with old performance posters, vestiges of the 35-year-old modern dance company’s annual concert series in its home city.

One from its 1999 season bears an audacious tagline: “3 weeks only. You’ll need the other 49 to catch your breath.”

But the troupe’s executive director, Jason Palmquist, jokes that the ad might as well read another way: “You’ll have the other 49 weeks to forget about us completely.”

Since his arrival at Hubbard Street in 2007, after nearly 15 years working in the District as a vice president at the Kennedy Center and executive director of the Washington Ballet, Palmquist has sought to expand the reach and influence of Hubbard Street’s art by rethinking the business strategy behind it.

I won’t quote the entire article in this blog post, but I will include the link here:

Sarah Halzack, the reporter for the Post, is a writer for the business section.  She is also a contemporary dancer and performs in one of Washington’s most respected modern companies, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company.  I knew Dana from my time in DC and it has been fun for me to see how his work has evolved over time.  I was particularly pleased to see that the company is embarking on a year-long residency at the National Portrait Gallery--similar to the work that Hubbard Street has done over the past five years with the Art Institute of Chicago. It's no surprise that a business reporter who is also a dancer understood the value of our work at 1871, but I was really amazed at how well Sarah “got it.”

Working with entrepreneurs
Of all of Hubbard Street’s new endeavors, the most offbeat is its partnership with 1871, a Chicago facility that provides local entrepreneurs with access to work spaces, mentors and resources. (If the concept sounds familiar, that’s because it was the inspiration for 1776, Washington’s own co-working center for start-ups that launched this year.)

The idea for the partnership was hatched when Hubbard Street was working with consulting firms ClearSpace and Strategos to identify ways in which it could bring dance into nontraditional settings. “One of the kind of questions that came to my mind was: Imagine if a conventional business had as high a performing team” as Hubbard Street’s dancers, Palmquist said. If they did, Palmquist said, “They’d rule the world!”

Hubbard Street soon applied for and received a grant worth $166,000 from ArtPlace to develop a curriculum and impart it to Chicago workers. Entrepreneurs, they thought, were ideal guinea pigs for the experiment. “Risk is involved in everything in both of our careers,” said Lissa Smith, one of the dancers who led the sessions. Smith and other dancers visited 1871 regularly throughout 2013 to guide small groups of entrepreneurs through movement exercises. Each session was focused on a different theme, such as leadership, team-building or innovation. Often, the dancers would offer up instructions for improvisation.

“Try to experience swimming through a pool of peanut butter,” Smith said she would tell the participants. “And after a few moments of trying that out, you’re standing in front of a huge audience at an auditorium, and you’re trying to get their attention.” It may seem fanciful that such an activity could translate into better business outcomes, but workshop participant Paul Caswell said the program helped him bring a different perspective to his technology business. Caswell was especially struck by a session in which he and a partner had to take turns mirroring each other’s movement patterns in real time. “It was a real ‘a-ha!’ moment for me as a leader, that it isn’t just about vision. Leadership is also moment-by-moment activity,” Caswell said.

Forging relationships with entrepreneurs and businesses may prove beneficial, as it could give Hubbard Street entree to organizations with deep pockets. Still, Palmquist said the program is new enough that it’s not yet clear whether it could or should be something that Hubbard Street charges clients for. “We don’t know yet what the end product looks like. We want it to be valuable,” Palmquist said.

I’m particularly pleased that Paul Caswell, CEO and Founder of Weave the People, was quoted in the article.  Paul was an early advocate of our work, and I hope he is able to leverage this coverage in a major national newspaper to his advantage.  I was also pleased that our partners, ClearSpace and Strategos, were mentioned as well as ArtPlace.

This was a big win for Hubbard Street and for Dance as a Learning Platform.