‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’
and the emerging
dance culture in Durham

Anna Barker and Leah Wilks 2

A renaissance is taking place in Durham.

The new school are moving in, and the old school are moving back.

Economic opportunity that did not exist in Durham several years ago now provides a canvas for anyone with a vision to paint their masterpiece. For Anna Barker and Leah Wilks, that masterpiece is rooted in modern dance.

Barker and Wilks have traveled similar paths. Both are graduates of Durham area high schools; Durham School of the Arts (Barker) and Carolina Friends School (Wilks), respectively. They met through mutual friends in the summer of 2008 while attending American Dance Festival. Like many of their peers, they both journeyed to the big city after college, hoping to find traction in their quest for a career in dance. After exhausting all of their creative energy for the endeavors of others, they decided to retreat temporarily to their home state of North Carolina to reevaluate the direction of their career. Wilks, and a year later, Barker, chose to make the move back to Durham permanent to pursue their own vision for modern dance.

Anna Barker and Leah Wilks

Hey, are they dancing in front of Liberty Warehouse?? Photo by Luke Barker

Now, both young ladies are leading the charge to help cultivate the emerging dance community in Durham. “There are other performers moving here to dance,” Barker says, “not just people who happen to be here and dance.” The grueling day-to-day of living in a major metropolis like New York City became burdensome and artistically draining for Barker, while the lethargic West Coast lifestyle was not stimulating enough for Wilks.

Life in New York City is fast and intense. The San Francisco/Bay Area is real laid back but everyone moves slow. Durham is the best of the both worlds; slow but intense. – Leah Wilks

Ambitious dancers and choreographers are flocking to Durham because of this combination of attitudes along with the low barrier to entry. This allows for more collaboration and a “sense of camaraderie between performers” which spawned groups like Durham Independent Dance Artists (DIDA), an organization established to bridge the gap between dancers and their audience.

ADF Go programMany residents are familiar with dance due in large part to the American Dance Festival, one of the nation’s most highly-regarded dance organizations. ADF has called Durham its home since 1978, but has struggled to connect modern dance to the modern generation of young people now living in the city. This year, thanks to the ADF GO program, Barker says “there is a little bit more awareness about modern dance.” ADF has also found ways to engage the choreographers and dancers in Durham after the development of ADF Studios on Broad Street above Hummingbird Bakery, offering practice space and lessons to aspiring and polished dancers alike.

Spaces like ADF Studios are an important asset for the dance community because of the scarcity in resources currently available. “Dance is the least funded performance art,” Barker says, with a strong reiteration from Wilks who points out that available grants for dance performance continues to shrink, putting a strain on choreographers and dancers. DIDA helps facilitate some of the outreach and resource acquisition necessary for these dancers to showcase their bodies of work.

Anna Barker and Leah Wilks 4

I believe this dance move is called ‘The Fish.” Photo by Luke Barker

This Fall, DIDA is hosting its first season of performances all centered around modern dance. Barker and Wilks will open the series with a self-choreographed piece hosted by Barker’s dance company, real.live.people.durham. The show is entitled It’s Not Me, It’s You and will play at Motorco Music Hall on November 8th and 9th. The theme for the evening features stories of love, loss, awkwardness, and the “grey area” in our life’s relationships. Barker and Wilks recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for It’s Not Me, It’s You (seen below), that aims to help raise funding and awareness for the presentation and ultimately the modern dance scene as a whole.

I want my work to be accessible. – Anna Barker

The DIDA season will run through June 2015, hosting a total of 9 performances. All the performances are self-produced by Durham-based artists. You can find more information about DIDA and upcoming shows at their website.

You, “and everyone you know,” can support the Kickstarter campaign here.

Columnist Justin Laidlaw is a renaissance man. His interests range from the music business to politics, from Durham’s history and culture, to the world beyond. The co-host of Clarion Content’s podcast, he is fast becoming a veteran columnist. He is a fashion model, a tech sceptic, a business manager and more.

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