The Rise of "Site-Specific Dance" and Why Foundations Like Knight are Funding It

The Knight Foundation recently awarded Hattie Mae Williams a Knight Arts Challenge Miami grant for her proposal to choreograph and present site-specific dance pieces at two historic locations within the city.

It's a very cool idea that seems even cooler when you realize that the word "historic" can also mean "run-down, dilapidated, and unoccupied." That's because while one of the planned locations, the 90-year-old Venetian Pool, is gorgeous and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world, the second location has seen better days. We're talking about the Miami Marine Stadium. It's been closed since authorities declared it unsafe following 1992's Hurricane Andrew. But the stadium still stands, and eerily so. Its graffitied walls and stark emptiness make it look like some bizarre pop-art spaceship from the mid-1980s. So naturally, it's the perfect location for a dance performance.

Welcome to the brave new world of "site-specific dance." As noted in this piece in the Huffington Post, "from sidewalks to airports, bridges to buildings, choreographers are reshaping our conventional notions of performance. When a dance piece is conceived in relation to a particular place (and is therefore 'site-specific') the location becomes as much a part of the performance as the dancer’s body. Brought out into the world, dance expands its imaginative repertoire, engages with new audiences, and helps reinvigorate a sense of communal space."

This idea wasn't lost on Williams. The dance performance at Miami Marine Stadium, which will also be filmed, will "capture the importance of the stadium, the history, the organic nature of the shifts that the graffiti population brings to the space and the constant inspiration the architecture holds."

Our takeaway is simple: Dance organizations need to start paying attention to larger trends like these. Large foundations like Knight are doling out money to individuals who develop intriguing site-specific dance proposals, and there's no reason to think they won't do the same for larger organizations. The trick is to draw a clear and compelling link between the performance and the dancers with the physical location itself. 

Furthermore, if this award — which, after all, is funding a performance in a decaying and unsafe stadium — teaches us anything, it's that choreographers can make an even more compelling argument by staging their work at a location that redefines traditional concepts of beauty and performance space.