Last year, Kim Holloway and Corina Dalzell found themselves discussing the difficult financial realities of being a professional dancer in Seattle. Holloway pointed out that “it’s not affordable to be a dancer: not getting paid, [while paying] $15 or more for class three times a week to keep in shape.” Especially since, Dalzell adds, when currently working toward performing in a project, many dancers take a break from their main income sources to focus on rehearsals. After pondering the idea a bit more, they decided to create their own affordable option for class and teamed up with fellow dancer Hayley Shannon, who had access to free studio space at The School of Spectrum Dance Theater. About a year after their original conversation, the trio launched Class Exchange, a weekly dance class that offers a cost-effective way for professional dancers to supplement their training through an ongoing peer teaching experiment.
SeattleDances caught up with Dalzell and Holloway on February 22, in a cozy coffee shop after class. “Class Exchange is about pooling resources within our rich community,” Dalzell says. “In addition to providing a space for practicing dance, Class Exchange is about meeting people, networking, getting to know our fellow artists. It’s a great space for dancers who are new to the city.”
Class Exchange evolved into a peer-taught, professional-level modern, contemporary, ballet, and improvised dance class series meeting every Monday from 10-11:30 AM. The three founders decided to ask for donations on a sliding scale of $3-5 for anyone to drop in and take class from a rotating lineup of working professional performers in the local community. “I think we were all a little shocked at the resounding ‘YES!’ response when we asked dancers and teachers to participate, especially from teachers who are well known in the city. It’s encouraging,” Shannon added via email. This past Monday was the first week someone from out of town had found the class online and come to check it out, expanding this network beyond Dalzell’s, Holloway’s, and Shannon’s connections in the local Seattle scene.
As a secondary function, Class Exchange provides a beneficial opportunity for teachers who are just beginning to teach adults on an advanced or professional level to expand their skills. “The low-stakes donation system lets people not get mad as a new teacher dips their toe in,” says Dalzell. Many dance instructors are comfortable in their work teaching children but are not ready to launch a class series at Velocity, for example. Class Exchange has also been a re-entry point for two teachers along their journeys to rediscover new physicalities after surgery. This format also allows dancers to take class in different ways. Shannon says, “I’m able to try creative approaches to a dance class which helps me as a mover and a teacher. Some of the teachers, like Maya Soto, offer insight into why they structured the class the way they do, and visuals they like to give to students, which as a teacher I love.”
Unfortunately, Class Exchange had been utilizing a timeslot that Spectrum planned to fill with a children’s class, so after a few months last fall, the three founders had to find a new space. Holloway suggested the Fremont Abbey Arts Center as a new home for the series. “Not only is it a beautiful, large space, the small staff were looking for ways to support more dance,” Holloway says. The Abbey often uses a barter system to help out artists from many genres, and has been able to offer the space to Class Exchange for a reduced rental fee. After an initially rocky start with low attendance in the new space, the coordinators are pleased to see a core group of seven to eight dancers consistently attend class each Monday. When asked about the logistics of coordinating a floating class series and the potential ramifications of starting up a professional class that could be seen as competition with other teachers, Dalzell shrugs and says simply, “Choosing any day is political. You can’t find a time that works for everybody.”
Rather than paying themselves as coordinators, Dalzell, Holloway, and Shannon donate the funds received from each class to the building rental and the teacher that day. As highly sought-after dance professionals themselves within the community, the three have had to carefully balance what they can accomplish as volunteer coordinators with their other careers and commitments. Currently, offering class once a week is the maximum they are able to program, but they would be delighted if another member of the community wanted to take the reins, adding additional days or times to the series. Realistically, the founders’ short term goal is to continue to generate consistent attendance and energy for each class, but in the long term, it would be ideal to raise enough money to pay the organizers for their time. According to Dalzell: “We want the volunteers to feel supported and have enough people to activate the space.”
To divide the workload of keeping Class Exchange up and running, Dalzell maintains the Facebook group while Shannon and Holloway schedule different teachers for each week, usually about three to four months in advance. One of the most gratifying outcomes the organizers have seen is watching new teachers gain more experience and grow in their teaching practice, which class attendees can then see as teachers return with new ideas and increased confidence. Although they have been approached by several established teachers, the founders want to stick to their core mission statement to “build community and safe spaces for emerging educators via peer learning experiences.” Rather than being about the prestige of the teacher, Class Exchange strives to address a need in the community, offering a grassroots, low stakes space to share dance practice for dancers and teachers alike.
Dalzell, Holloway, and Shannon would like to thank Spectrum Dance Theater and the Fremont Abbey Arts Center for their support. For more information about Class Exchange or to connect on Facebook, please visit HERE.