Dance history revives at SMC

Amid the sea of black leotards and ballet buns sits 73-year old professional dancer and dance historian, GaryBates.

The dance department at Santa Monica College invited Bates to speak about the history of Los Angeles Modern and Contemporary Dance on Sept. 17 and to initiate SMC's Master of Dance lecture series.

Bates began his lecture by reading out the dance history verbatim from a binder, while attentive dance students scribbled down notes.

A loud crash startled everyone in the room as Bates threw his binder on the floor and narrated one of his many fascinating tales of the dance movement in Los Angeles during the 1960s.

“I’ve been doing this for half a century," he said, as he got up to dance for the cheering audience before him. "I’m not that old! I can still do all this crazy stuff."

Mentored by multi-award winning dance legend Bella Lewitsky, Bates began his dance career in the early 1960s and performed and taught in Los Angeles ever since.

With his deep roots in dance history, Bates shared his personal experiences of performing, observing and contemplating dance in Southern California.

Bates taught dance and choreography at SMC in the 1990s and described the school as “a place I hold in my heart."

"I saw some magic occur that you don’t really see particularly in colleges and universities,” he says.

Bates currently works on the advisory board for the Dance History Project website, which concentrates on preserving the history of dance making and performing in South California.

Bates explained to the class that he began working on the project because he had been concerned that the history of live professional dance in Los Angeles would be lost forever.

According to him, not a lot has been written about the LA dance scene besides the occasional review scattered in old newspapers and magazines.

“There is an enormous amount of dance in this city and it needs to be talked about," he says. "There needs to be people who advocate for dance as an art form in itself."

Bates’ lecture focuses on the history of modern dance, which began in Los Angeles in the early 1920s, Bates said.

Before the 19th century, dance was seen as an “accidental art” or as a decoration for other art forms such as live theater or music, he said. The modern dance movement was set on discovering the fundamentals of dance and stripped music away from it so that dance could come forth as its own art form.

The Los Angeles dance community is the least funded in the country, Bates said. He expressed his hopes to bring more support and encouragement to the LA dance scene through the reviews, critiques, and opinions people share of the modern dance scene on the Dance History Project website.

“Good, bad, or indifferent – doesn’t matter what you write," Bates said. "We don’t care; we just want to get it down."

After almost three hours of in-depth recollections of the dance history Bates has experienced in his lifetime, he ended his lecture by encouraging the young dance students around him to immerse themselves in dance.

“Movement is alive in all of us, we are filled with this liveliness,” Bates said smiling. "You have the ability to create the new age of dance. All you have to do is go out and do it.”

CultureReyna MaresComment