Since 1986, Dance Place has been more than our local dance training and performance venue. It has provided the Brookland community with free artsy activities as well as after-school programs and summer camps.
This August, Dance Place founder Carla Perlo will step down after 37 years leading the organization. In early September, Dance Place will welcome its new executive artistic director, Christopher K. Morgan.
A dancer, choreographer, and arts educator, Christopher will be responsible for the Brookland area-based institution’s overall vision. He’ll also curate over 40 weeks’ worth of performances and programming.
As Christopher prepares for this next stage of his creative and professional career, we caught up with him for a chat about his background and future plans for this cultural institution.
How did dance become your artistic passion (as opposed to, say, painting)?
As a child I danced the hula and dances of Polynesia with my family. Both of my parents were born and raised in Hawai’i but had moved to Southern California during their service in the U.S. Marines. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, they gave my brothers and sisters and I the opportunity to connect to our cultural heritage through the dance and music of our ancestors.
I came to Western-influenced forms of dance (ballet, jazz, modern dance) at the age of 17. While participating in high-school theater, a choreographer suggested I take a ballet class. Recognizing a talent in me I didn’t know I had, the ballet teacher invited me to take classes from her for free. Before I knew it, I was consumed by this passion I felt for these ways of moving my body and expressing myself.
I studied in a studio throughout my senior year of high school. I had been studying dance and writing at the University of California at Irvine for two years when I was offered my first full-time job as a dancer for Malashock Dance & Company, a modern company in San Diego. I leapt at the opportunity, as dance had become my all-consuming passion – and has been ever since.
How did you first get involved with Dance Place?
I first learned of Dance Place in 1998 as a young dancer living in San Diego preparing to move to D.C. to dance for what is now The Dance Exchange. A few months later, in January of 1999, I found myself onstage at Dance Place in an evening of dancer-choreographed works.
Of course, I’ve attended many performances at Dance Place over the years, but since I began my dance company, Christopher K. Morgan & Artists, in 2011, Dance Place has played an important role in presenting our work multiple times. Most significantly, Dance Place was one of the two lead commissioners and the site for the world premiere of my 2016 work, Pōhaku, which has now toured to nine venues around the United States.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve felt a growing call to arts leadership emerging in my life, which drew me to the executive artistic director role at Dance Place. In order to achieve equity for under-represented artists, diverse representation must be at the decision-making tables. As a person who identifies with multiple marginalized groups, I take very seriously my role to serve artists, students, and audiences of all types.
What are your hopes for the future of Dance Place?
I’m approaching this new role with a philosophy of inclusivity and service, which is essentially continuing Dance Place’s existing mission. I’m excited how this evolution in my career will allow me to support and serve artists, students, and audiences.
One thing I hope for is to help Dance Place and the greater D.C. dance community increase their visibility on the national scene as an important center for dance. After all, we’re in our nation’s capital, and D.C. has the second-highest concentration of choreographers in the country. The work being presented and made here is noteworthy, and it should be recognized more.
What should the relationship be between an arts organization and its surrounding community?
Nothing exists in isolation. I like to use the image of concentric circles. The concentric circles of community Dance Place inhabits begin with the Brookland and Edgewood neighborhoods and expand from there out to D.C., and from there to the region, and from there to the nation.
Dance Place’s relationship with Brookland and Edgewood has to be strong in order for the organization’s role in the greater D.C. community to be strong. In turn, that creates an open environment that’s ready to receive what the artists who come from outside this particular community bring to our neighborhood. The circles can be porous when they’re strong, allowing ideas and information to flow inward and outward.
What do you like most about the Brookland and Edgewood neighborhoods?
As someone who’s worked at and patronized Dance Place, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Brookland and Edgewood. It’s amazing to see how the neighborhood has evolved since I first set foot in it back in 1998. I hope it can continue to keep its long-time residents while it grows and embraces new neighbors. I’m a big fan of the nearby Busboys and Poets location, and I love grabbing a beer over at Brookland Pint and seeing the Arts Walk alive with people.
As I step into this new role, I’m looking forward to getting to know the residents and local business owners around here. In fact, if you’re reading this and want to meet, let’s do so in the neighborhood. Or better yet: Stop by a performance at Dance Place when our new season starts in the fall and say hi!
Dance Place is located at 3225 Eighth Street NE.