Art Works Blog

In Denver, the Arts Keep Swinging

Caryn Carrasco has seen firsthand the bonds that social dance can build. Her parents met while dancing at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom in 1955, and she has spent her life meeting new faces and forming relationships through dances like swing. The art form has proven so meaningful to Carrasco that she considers it “better than life insurance, because you'll never be alone, you'll always be in good shape, and you'll always have friends.”

In 1999, she set out to bring this experience to others and founded Community-Minded Dance (CMDance) in Denver, Colorado. Through in-school programming, CMDance teaches social dances from North and South America to students across the region. Every year, the organization reaches nearly 10,000 youth from pre-school through high school, and teaches them communication, improvisational thinking, and cultural appreciation through art forms such as the Lindy hop, the Argentine tango, and cueca. CMDance also hosts a number of public events throughout the year, including festivals, workshops, and community dances.

This morning, we announced that CMDance will receive its first NEA grant, as part of our second round of FY 2017 funding. In this funding cycle, $82.06 million will support 1,195 grant projects, which will impact communities nationwide.

CMDance’s award will specifically fund the organization’s Lindy on the Rocks festival, which is a weekend-long event filled with workshops, performances, and open forums for swing, blues and tango dance. Since the festival began 14 years ago, Carrasco said it welcomes roughly 500 participants a year, who come from across Colorado and the country, as well as far-flung locales such as Korea and Great Britain. “The great thing about dance is that it crosses all boundaries—where you're from, how much money you have,” said Carrasco. “It's a cultural exchange of the heart, and it puts people in a room or space together that maybe if it wasn't for this one commonality, they would not be. So people talk and interact that wouldn't ordinarily have that opportunity to do so.”

While the bulk of CMDance’s arts education programming targets youth, events such as Lindy on the Rocks draw multiple generations, from those who might have experienced social dance through CMDance’s in-school instruction, to those who grew up when swing first hit ballrooms in the 1930s and 1940s. For the last few years, the festival has coincided with a complementary jazz celebration also hosted by CMDance, which has further expanded the audience for dance. “[There are] people that will just to hear the music,” said Carrasco. “It's really a thrill for them to see the dancers, and it gives them an opportunity, in a safe space, to say ‘Hey, we can dance. Let's do this.’”

The festival attracts both professional and amateur dancers, as well as those who are simply interested in having a good time. Carrasco said that while she hopes every participant enjoys themselves and learns something new, she also strives for a larger takeaway about the role the arts can play in our lives. “What we hope is that each person, if nothing else, will really walk away and feel like they are an advocate for the arts—that they feel that the arts have had an amazing, positive impact on their life and they’ve opened doors for them for communication, for meeting other people, and for traveling to other places in the world for music and dance.”


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