LadyfestCLT aims to change perception on dance performance

 By Shirley Griffith

January 31, 2020

Dance and other movement-based mediums are often pigeonholed as too highbrow or too limited in scope making the entire form seem unavailable to large swaths of everyday people, especially those outside the insular world of dance. These restrictive boundaries are primarily what ladyfestCLT co-curators and co-directors, Sarah Ingel and Megan Payne, aim to shatter as they prepare for its 6th installment, happening Saturday, February 8 at Goodyear Arts at 7 p.m. 

People often say to Ingel, “I don’t get dance” and she’ll respond encouragingly, paralleling dance to other ways our bodies react. “You know what it’s like to feel sick, to be angry or scared. You can notice stress or tension; you read body language every day to gauge a general sense of how people are feeling in their bodies. With dance, all of these things are being shown on a stage, in different ways than we’re used to– it’s just a matter of learning to read it.” 

Sarah Ingel and Megan Payne. Photo: Nick Blankenship

This is what Ingel and Payne strive to present with ladyfestCLT, the annual dance and performance festival centered around femme-makers. “The case for dance isn’t always readily apparent because you’re not buying something tangible when you support performance work, but the hope is that you have a fulfilling experience and walk away with a unique perspective,” Ingel said.  

LadyfestCLT 2020 features local performers Audrey Baran of Baran Dance, musician JM Askew, Julia Shockley and Hanna Blackwell, Tamara Williams & Moving Spirits, Inc, Sarah Council Dance Projects, filmmaker Nani Lee, performance artist Dennissa Young, Lauren Bickerstaff, and Megan Payne. Regional performers include Richmond, Virginia’s Luisa Innisfree; Orlando, FL’s Nikki Pena; returning ladyfest performer from Columbus, OH, Joey Bee; New York filmmaker Ayanna Adams; Chilmark, MA’s Jesse Keller Jason; and UNCSA alumnae Laura Gutierrez and Bekah Downing. 

One Hundred Ways To Say No by Sarah Ingel. Photo: Taylor Jones

This year Payne and Ingel promised to bring even more daring works to ladyfestCLT, like a boundary-pushing piece by JM Askew and works from returning artists like Audrey Baran, who has shown a creatively strong evolution over the years. The curators are delighted to present ladyfestCLT at Goodyear Arts where they’ve been given the freedom to take more risks and add new types of work aided by Goodyear Art’’s space and support. A wide range of styles are represented this year, including performance art, choreography, and dance-focused films (also called movement films) shown in stations for intimate viewings. 

However, some of the pieces this year feature mature content that some may deem upsetting, but that’s not lost on Ingel and Payne. “We’re aware as curators; we feel it is important and want to make space for these pieces and provide an open avenue for femme-makers to express their feelings and views on more difficult issues and experiences, but we also recognize the audience has their own experiences so they may find some content triggering (sexual assault, suicide, etc),” Ingel said. “We aren’t going to censor the artists but we do ask that the audience members are responsible for their own experience throughout the night so the Goodyear studios will stay open and audience members are welcome to take a walk through them if they’re too affected by the performances.” 

Moons & Oceans by Megan Payne. Photo: Taylor Jones

When Ingel and co-creator Caitlyn Swett (of Triptych Collective) originally started ladyfestCLT in 2015, they were fueled by the large amounts of discrepancies in the dance world concerning who’s doing the work and putting in the labor (primarily women) versus who was receiving grants, and getting commissions and curatorial positions (primarily men). “There’s still a lot of #metoo stuff happening in the dance world that just slides by because the dance community is so secular that people aren’t aware of it in the more mainstream ways like they’re aware of movies or music. We’re still putting the same types of predatory people in charge and it’s not okay,” Ingel said. 

Ladyfest brings a feminist perspective to an art form that deals so intrinsically with the body, opening up the medium to different types of bodies to be seen and different viewpoints to be shared. It also acts as to further strengthen the Charlotte arts community by bringing artists together and sparking dialogue between the audience and performers. 

A History of Dirt by Sarah Council. Photo: Taylor Jones

“Overall, the art form is still stuck in these ideas of what types of bodies should be seen on stage, what color those bodies should be, which techniques and styles should be held up over others, etc.,” Ingel said. “Megan and I have hopes that dance can be something healing and community-building while examining difficult emotions and experiences that the dance world limits itself from exploring because of these strictly held tropes and limitations.”

Another featured artist, WAMA member Dennissa Young, has been working with the idea of “radical softness” and how we’re scared to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Her site-specific installation is exemplary of how a femme perspective allows people to address more difficult topics by making space for softnesses like grace, patience, and compassion.

These themes resonate throughout the performance and tie in to the evening’s fundraising for Planned Parenthood. Five dollars of the $15 ticket price will be donated to Planned Parenthood, while the rest will be distributed to the artists. The nonprofit speaks to a cause that means a lot to both Ingel and Payne, particularly with 2020 being an election year. “This is an organization doing a lot of good for females and femme-identifying folks at low cost to those who need it most. It is a very personal thing for both Megan and myself, as well as the community at-large to have the option to not worry about yourself or a loved one’s health.” 

LadyfestCLT takes place Saturday, February 8 at Goodyear Arts starting at 7 p.m. 

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