Web Sites of Interest

Voice of Dance

Review by Natasha Terk

Do you have a favorite Web site that might be of interest to other arts grantmakers? Natasha Terk (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) wrote about one that intrigues her. Let us know about your favorites.

Tired of one-sided dance criticism? A San Francisco-based Web site takes action. Check out Voice of Dance.

The Voice of Dance Web site was launched two years ago in response to what many people believed was a poor state of dance criticism in the Bay Area. Unlike New York City, where dance groups can be reviewed in a variety of well-read newspapers, San Francisco readers have one primary newspaper for arts reviews, The San Francisco Chronicle. The dance community felt not only that press coverage for dance companies of all sizes was lacking but also that, as Laurie Smith, the president of Voice of Dance said, "the dance critic at the Chronicle often gave mean-spirited reviews," sometimes killing off the audience for an entire season premiere.

The dance community responded with letters to the editor. When the letters to the editor weren't printed, F. Warren Hellman, ballet patron and local philanthropist, launched the Voice of Dance Web site with an email link to the editors of The San Francisco Chronicle that allowed the dance community to comment on the paper's reviews directly. The Internet proved to be the perfect medium to meet these interactive goals. "The Voice of Dance has been a collaborative effort," said Warren Hellman. "Volunteers from the Bay Area dance community have joined together to create an open forum about dance and to attract new audiences."

In the last two years, the scope of the project has expanded. In response to requests throughout the country, Voice of Dance is now covering dance criticism nationally. The site has three major sections including The Buzz, The World of Reviews, and Connections. The Buzz is home to The Lobby, Front Row, Backstage, and Dear Editor. The Lobby features a synopsis of more than 300 national dance reviews and is where the "public can communicate with each other," says Laurie Smith. "The dance community can write about dance issues as they relate to health, new works, music, sets, etc." Also featured in the Lobby, are a World Dance section, a Kid's Corner, and a national job postings section that has become very popular. Users can engage in intellectual exchange with others around the world and interact "live" with dance celebrities. Voice of Dance hit the press with its first online chat with Mark Morris. Archived chat sessions with artists including Helgi Tomasson, Margaret Jenkins, Maria Tallchief, and Brenda Way can be found in Backstage. September features will include an online chat with New York City Ballet's Merrill Ashley. Connections features links to other dance-related sites, directories, and upcoming events on Voice of Dance.

As Web sites like Voice of Dance become a useful tool for audiences, they also help funders to determine the level of both artist and audience participation in the field. Currently Voice of Dance receives approximately 6,000 visits a week. As people begin to purchase more goods on the Internet, Voice of Dance hopes to begin selling tickets to dance performances. International calendars and online ticketing for cities including New York, Boston, London, and Hong Kong will be available soon.

Natasha Terk, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation