Liz Houlton is a passionate person, and you can hear it in her voice (even virtually). When asked “What excites you about using a podcast as a medium to engage with dance?” she was ready to respond right away.
“Oh! The fact that dancers are never asked to talk and never asked to fully explain what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’ve come to understand how they’re doing it. Dancers are so smart! What a smart group of people that are incredibly observant, incredibly self aware, and also very interested.”
Houlton and Maris Antolin, both Seattle based dancers/administrators, host the Dancers Did That? podcast. First released in June 2020, this podcast looks back at important dance history moments and examines them in the context of past and present. The podcast reviews historical facts, but in a fun and casual manner—think coffee shop conversation rather than history channel episode. Recent guests include Emma Lawes, Devin Muñoz, and Shane Donohue. It is a charming way to revisit history and spark discussion around what’s happening now, complete with a ukulele theme song.
After echoing Houlton’s point on how useful it is to hear dancers speak, Antolin delights in the potential for the podcast to document the history that is being made now:
“I don’t want to say a record because it feels stagnant, but it’s a snapshot of what’s happening right now. And I love that we literally hear people’s voices who are doing so many different things, who have so many different areas of expertise. And we get to talk to them during a pandemic where things are wild. And I hope that it’s comforting now to other people that are experiencing similar things. And I hope that in the future we can look back and be like Oh my gosh, that was bananas! Can you believe how much we learned?”
When asked how history informs their own careers as artists and arts administrators, Houlton and Antolin both speak to history as a way to examine change and see what the arts needs now.
“Fossils are only interesting because of the one point in time they represent,” says Antolin. “And we work in an industry that’s constantly changing. And so if the organizations and institutions that make up the Seattle ecosystem of arts organizations specifically are fossils then no one’s going to go to them. We need to keep changing, and the way that we keep changing is to bring in new leaders, and also to own your own power. And also spread the wealth, use your own power for good, and use your own platform to uplift others.”
Houlton jumps in to elaborate. “History is a lens into understanding that we are not just inheriting the systems that have come before us. It is our responsibility to adapt those systems to the artists that are working now. And that has been done time and time again, and it will continue to be done. So I think history is a good reminder that change is just part of it.”
The hosts also see the podcast as an access point to dance that people usually only receive from a personal connection to a dancer. Houlton explains:
“What makes any art transmittable or communicative or accessible, I think at the heart of it is getting people to trust you. Because I think people need a person as their access point. And if we can provide that on the Dancers Did That? podcast then we can usher in newer audiences to dance purely because they can trust us.”
On a personal level, listening to Dancers Did That? helps me maintain a sense of connection to the Seattle dance community during the pandemic, which is no small feat. Hearing the familiar voices of local artists makes me smile. In addition to longing to be in the studio dancing and creating dance with others, I’ve realized how much I miss the dialogue that used to infiltrate my life. There were the friendly chats before and after class, the excited conversations in the seats before the lights of the theater dimmed, the curious questions in the lobby following a performance, the quick artist catch-ups from chance run-ins on the street, and (my personal favorite) the discussions that occur during the ultimate bonding experience of dismantling the risers at the end of a Velocity show with your fellow volunteers. I can’t express how much I would give right now to be in dance discourse with another person while simultaneously shoving wood structures under each other in a room buzzing with post-performance magic.
If you’re finding yourself feeling distant from dance, and your housemates are less than inclined to talk with you about controversial pointe shoes, give Dancers Did That? a listen. Houlton and Antolin are sure to entertain and feed your dance dialogue desires.
You can listen to Dancers Did That? on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and many more podcast platforms (full list at anchor.fm/dancers-did-that-podcast). Houlton and Antolin are also always looking for guests, so if you’re interested in being on the podcast dm @dancersdidthat on Instagram!