The Jacob's Pillow KNOW DANCE Project: Expanding Dance Audiences through Crowdsourced Video

The new documentary Never Stand Still was filmed at Jacob’s Pillow, a National Historic Landmark and home of America’s longest-running dance festival nestled in the majestic Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. Directed by Ron Honsa and narrated by Bill T. Jones, the film features stunning performances in HD, backstage views, archival footage, and rare interviews with dance luminaries such as Judith Jamison, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, Suzanne Farrell, and Merce Cunningham. But Never Stand Still is more than just a film about “the Pillow;” it’s an exploration of dance, why it matters, and what it means to dedicate one’s life to the art form.

Born from two-pronged goal to expand audiences for dance and promote awareness for Never Stand Still, the online KNOW DANCE project asks viewers, “What do you want people to KNOW about DANCE?” and invites them to add their voice to the growing conversation by responding via text comment or by uploading their own response video. Crowdsourced projects such as KNOW DANCE are dependent upon responses from the public and therefore need a compelling question or reason for people to participate and share the project. We considered a number of options, and felt that What do you want people to KNOW about dance? elicits not only opinions but also sharing information, education, advice, and passion – all important when expanding appreciation for dance.

We believe this question encourages engagement and sharing among dancers, choreographers, educators, dance fans, and non-dancers of all ages. By asking “what do YOU want people to KNOW” the project aims to empower viewers and responders to engage in art by contributing their own knowledge and opinions.

Using gorgeous footage from Never Stand Still, we created a KNOW DANCE kickoff video designed to expand awareness for this new film and inspire the public to respond to the project. The video features compelling opinions about dance from artists including Rasta Thomas, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, and Merce Cunningham, who states “It’s not for the timid.” Through Never Stand Still, these artists are contributing their own responses to “What do you want people to know about dance?” Here’s that video:

Since uploading this KNOW DANCE video to YouTube in December of 2011, it has been viewed more than 9,000 times, which is more than twice as many views as the extended trailer for Never Stand Still has garnered. This tells us that by repackaging information about Never Stand Still, we are indeed getting the word out about to a wider audience. The KNOW DANCE kickoff video has been featured on dance blogs, shared on Facebook and Twitter, and distributed via the Jacob’s Pillow eclub newsletter. Interestingly, the most views have come from Google searches for dance, followed by mobile apps and direct traffic, then external websites that include Facebook and Twitter. From this information we can infer that our question, “what do you want people to know about dance”, is sparking the desire to share and move the conversation along, and it is resonating with the online dance community.

To collect response videos, we created a KNOW DANCE playlist on both the Never Stand Still and PillowTV YouTube channels. Response videos are then shared with our social networks to promote further engagement and conversation. Video responses have come from dance critics, choreographers, and performers from around the world. One of our favorite response videos so far incorporates illustration, music, and spoken word, proving that dance intersects with many other art forms. Take a look:

Every time the KNOW DANCE video and response videos are viewed and shared, we’re spreading diverse information about and appreciation for dance. The project is ongoing as Never Stand Still is continuing to make the rounds at film festivals across the country and internationally as it moves toward a theatrical run. As the 80th Anniversary Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival nears and more people learn about the KNOW DANCE project, Never Stand Still, and dance itself, we look forward to receiving even more response videos and continuing to expand the dance and dance film audience.

The KNOW DANCE project is part of Virtual Pillow, a collection of online Jacob’s Pillow Dance resources, talks, and videos. It was funded in part by a Social Media Outreach grant from Mass Humanities.

Author: Katryn Geane

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