Tuesday April 16, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- After 15 years as a professional dancer, Kyla Ernst-Alper knows all about how to move.

But now, she’s focused on taking a stand.

Ernst-Alper, who grew up in Brattleboro and mentored at the Brattleboro School of Dance by Dana Holby and Patricia Wilson, moved to New York City when she was 16 to dance for Eliot Field’s Ballet Tech.

She has stayed with it on and off ever since, forging a 15-year career that taught her many things -- including how tough the dancer’s life is.

"The dance world is shifting. It’s almost reflective of what’s happening across the country in all careers," said Ernst-Alper, pointing out that fewer dancers get long-term contracts with companies that offer security and benefits.

More and more, dancers are free-lancers who don’t make enough money in dance to live on. A recent Dance/NYC census showed that the average New York City dancer earns $28,000 a year, but only 55 percent of that is from dance. As they juggle dancing gigs and side jobs, dancers also find it hard to reach audiences.

"We’re working our butts off, we’re not making enough money to live on, and nobody’s watching, so why are we doing this?" said Ernst-Alper.

They’re doing it, of course, because it’s their passion. But pursuing that passion shouldn’t come with an unendurable price tag. So Ernst-Alper has embarked on a project to support her peers in dance and build wider support for the art form she first came to love while growing up in Brattleboro.


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"This old thing isn’t working. What are new ways of making something work?" she said.

Ernst-Alper has launched www.underonedances.com, a new web-based initiative to showcase dancers, promote them, encourage collaboration between dancers and other artists and build new audiences for dance.

The site profiles professional dancers in a new way, through individual web pages that contain one-minute videos and brief personal profiles that offer little glimpses of these dancers as people.

"I wanted to make these dancers interesting and give people something to relate to," said Ernst-Alper.

The videos, filmed by Greg Haerling, show the dancers in motion, often in outdoor, public settings.

The personal profiles include a little bit about a dancer’s career and a little bit more about what makes them tick. The dancers answer questions about cool places around the world dance has taken them; the music they warm up to; their favorite rehearsal snacks (peanut butter and banana is one answer, string cheese and Diet Coke is another); and other non-dance jobs they’ve held (bartender, dog walker, social media marketing expert, sandwich shop owner, make-up artist and concierge are all listed).

For phase two of the project, Ernst-Alper welcomes musicians to add their own music to the videos as a way of encouraging collaboration and showing these dancers in new, hip ways.

"I wanted to celebrate and promote dancers individually and try to find a way to connect my peers with dancers and show people how cool and beautiful and interesting they are," said Ernst-Alper.

The site has a social media quality to it. Ideally, people will check out the dancers on the underonedances.com page, follow the ones they like, become friends and fans and ultimately go to events the dancers they like are in.

"To me, this is beyond just getting them jobs, It’s about getting a new audience," she said. "Wild success would be when people my age or younger or older are thinking about what they’re going to do, and they think about these dancers and say, ‘Emily is performing this weekend. Let’s go check her out.’"

The underonedances.com site is live now and has a handful dancers profiled -- Maxx Passion, another Brattleboro School of Dance alumna is one of them -- but Ernst-Alper is still seeking seed money to develop her project.

She is in the midst of a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign through www.usaprojects.org, which is like Kickstarter, but arts-focused. Her campaign to raise $10,000 continues through April 30. As of Tuesday, she has raised a little more than $3,500. People who are interested in donating, can find the campaign at www.usaprojects.org/project/under_one_a_collection_of_dances or through www.underonedances.com.

The funds will be used to develop and promote the site. She also pays the dancers on her site a small stipend as part of "taking a stand against dancers doing stuff for free."

This latest venture represents the marriage of Ernst-Alper’s twin career tracks since moving to New York. She has continued to pursue a career in dance and has worked with C. Eule Dance, Elisa Monte Dance, Battery Dance Company, Dzul Dance and White Wave Dance Company, while choreographing works at the Muselam, CoolNY Dance Festival and the Guerilla Gallery. She also works as a freelance producer and editor of television and internet shows, something she began about 10 years to help pay the bills. Her credits include Animal Planet, The Travel Channel, AOL, E!, Tivo, Discovery and more. She still returns home to the Brattleboro every now and then -- her own underonedances.com page shows her dancing in a field in West Brattleboro.

"I was really nurtured in Brattleboro, which made it possible for me to go to New York," she said.