Pittsburgh Dance Week: Nick M. Daniels and Flipping Convention

Pittsburgh Dance Week is coming upon us, the week of April 8th-April 14th. Whether you are a trained dancer, or someone who just loves to groove and wants to experience movement with other like-minded souls and bodies, this will be seven days full of opportunities for growth, practice, and community. It will include workshops, performances, and classes held by local dance artists/companies, including (but not limited to), the coordinator of the week, Nick M. Daniels of DANA Movement Ensemble, Slowdanger, the Staycee Pearl Dance Project, and more.

Ranging from modern to improvisation to liturgical dance, the week long affair will have something for everyone of all levels.

In it’s second year of revival thanks to local renowned dancer, and founder/director of DANA Movement Ensemble, Nick M. Daniels, Pittsburgh Dance Week is an important and promising gathering for the city and the dance community.

Nick M. Daniels, a clearly kind, passionate, and welcoming soul right off the bat, founded DANA (Dancers Against Normal Action) in 1991. Born and raised in Pittsburgh and one of the first graduates of Slippery Rock University’s Dance program, dance has always been “a way to let out that energy,” he told me. We all have some sort of energy and our own ways of releasing it. During his time at college, he realized his love for choreography.

He says he “wanted to be the one creating the dances, rather than dancing them.”

Daniels went on to study with some of the best mentors in the world, continuing to develop his style of movement along the way; honing his ability to weave this into choreography. He and his company, DANA Movement Ensemble, have won many awards and accolades, including the Heinz Endowments/Pittsburgh Foundation – Advancing Black Arts Grant and the 2019 Classic Events Tribute to Arts & Culture – Outstanding Dance/Choreographer award, and performed at events such as the Three Rivers Arts Festival (PGH, PA), the Kelly Strayhdorn Martin Luther King Day Celebration (PGH, PA), and the Dancing Queerly Festival (Cambridge, MA).

After a 20+ year hiatus, Daniels returned to choreographing in 2016 and shortly after, sparked the return of Pittsburgh Dance Week. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, Pittsburgh Dance Week happened every year, run by the Pittsburgh Dance Council. When Daniels returned to the local dance community and the event was no longer going on, he missed and it and decided that he could do something about it.

“When I came back from my break, I was like, ‘where is Pittsburgh Dance Week?!” he said with a laugh.

Knowing enough local artists, he wove together an exuberant and exciting week of dance. He thought it was not only a healthy event for the local dance community, but a necessary way to honor the integrity of the Pittsburgh dance scene’s work with national and international artists and accomplishments. This includes a diverse range of styles, people and backgrounds.

The variety of style and background to be found in Pittsburgh Dance Week is reflective of his own company and work.

“I like to use a lot of different styles,” says Daniels.

The various styles that inspire the creative mind of the choreographer/dancer include butoh, African, modern, and contemporary… but all of his work is rooted in emotion—

“Anything that comes from me, goes into my choreography,” he shared with me.

The name of his company comes from within him as well. D.A.N.A. stands for “Dancers Against Normal Action.” When coming up with the name of his company, which he started in college, he knew he wanted to do something unique. Rather than simply using his last name, “Daniels,” in the name of his company, he chose a name that reflected both his name and what he stands for, reflected in his work.

“I wanted to do something not normal…” he says,

“…I take something very pedestrian and very normal and I flip it. I flip and turn things on it’s ear. That’s why people love my work and why people hate it,” he states with a humble confidence.

Not only does Daniels incorporate many styles of dance into his work, but he also utilizes different mediums, such as photography, video, and soundscapes. A presentation of Digital Dance by Nick Daniels and Slowdanger will be shown during the Pittsburgh Dance Week at Forbes Digital Plaza on Monday April 8th at 5 PM. He recently returned from performing and sharing his work in Venice, Italy, where he says he was encouraged to highlight the beauty of the video component of his movement piece by separating the two.

Along with a range of style, a range of participants is encouraged as well! Most importantly, Daniels wanted to stress that Pittsburgh Dance Week (and dance in general!) is for anyone and everyone. Even if you’ve never been to a dance class in your life, dance week is welcoming to all levels and ages.

“All classes are for anyone to come!” he says, “You can be my age and come dance!”

Dancers of all types and levels are encouraged to attend through out the week, to whatever events you’re able. Classes and workshops will offer a diversity of opportunities, including modern, contemporary, improvisational, liturgical (which Daniels highlighted particularly as something “really different for Pittsburgh… we will have interdenominational dance going on,”), and more.

The week will kick off on Monday April 8th and end on Sunday April 14th. Many events will be pay what you can or free (some will have a set price) and all will be promising times to connect with yourself and the community. The full schedule can be found on their site.

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