Conversations | Svea Schneider, Founder of INSITU Site-Specific Dance Festival in Long Island City
“Life is movement and movement is dance…We might not have the same income level or skin color, but we all have a physical body and can relate to each other through dance.”
It’s the inaugural year of NYFA Fiscally Sponsored project, INSITU Site-Specific Dance Festival, where 24 distinct dance companies will “maneuver through playgrounds, appear in hidden corners, and dance on piers, staircases, and shorelines.” Adorning the Long Island City (LIC) waterfront, this progression of site-specific, contemporary, and urban dances will activate the rapidly changing Queens neighborhood and immerse the community in a common language and a love for dance on Saturday, July 8 and Sunday, July 9, 2017.
In this interview, Svea Schneider, dancer, choreographer, and founder of the INSITU Site-Specific Dance Festival, shares with us her own background in dance and what prompted her to establish this two-day, community-driven celebration along the borders of LIC.
NYFA: What motivated you to establish INSITU Dance Festival?
Svea Schneider: I wanted to create a project that provides great and free art that builds community, brings people together, and sparks dialogue. I have a strong passion for using dance as a tool for social justice and civic engagement.
I lived in Peru for two years where I was working as the artistic director for a nonprofit dance organization called D1-Dance. As one of the leading South American dance organizations with a social mission, D-1 empowers and positively impacts young adults and kids from the most impoverished neighborhoods. While working there I experienced firsthand what a profound impact dance has on people’s lives and I felt that my talent was truly used.
When I moved back to New York in 2016, I came back to a very changed neighborhood. I saw the impact of gentrification and the increasing disconnect between the high-rise communities and the public housing community in LIC. I felt the urge to use my talent to do something meaningful for our community and bring people together through dance.
This was the starting point and thus INSITU was born. Amongst the arts, dance is still on the bottom ladder, and there are many people who frankly cannot connect to the artform. I wanted to make dance approachable. I wanted to activate our neighborhood and raise awareness about the power of movement by bringing it into public spaces.
Lastly, I wanted to create and cultivate a supportive platform for artists to develop new work. One of INSITU’s core values is to support artists by not charging an application fee to submit work and by paying a $500 stipend to each participating artists. Artists’ voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression and I am committed to providing a platform for that.
NYFA: Why does dance bring a diverse community together?
SS: Life is movement and movement is dance. We forget about that in the midst of our daily routines in our ‘developed’ societies. I personally am flabbergasted by the direction our society is going. We see our species as the epitome of creation and forget that we are just a part of it. In the grand picture we play the same role as the cockroach that runs through the kitchen sink. We live in a world full of violence, discrimination, and hate and need to begin realizing that we need to come together, see eye-to-eye, and work together through kindness, love, and creativity if we want to see our species and our earth thrive.
I believe that dance is a tool to make the right kind of human progress. Dance, in its inherent form of being is movement of the body, has the power to reconnect us to our essential being, and to connect with other people through the universal language of the body. We might not have the same income level or skin color, but we all have a physical body and can relate to each other through that. By dancing together, we vibe on the same frequency and this sparks dialogue to develop understanding for each other. Dance and movement defies human labels and in my opinion, like any other art form, it is essential in stimulating integration and creating a platform that encourages others to take the right kind of actions.
NYFA: The dances performed are site-specific, with of all the sites located in Queens. Why is the LIC waterfront the site-specific location you chose? What guidelines do you give to performers to help them engage with this space?
SS: I am a LIC resident, so the waterfront is my home turf and community for which I wanted to create this experience. I love our beautiful waterfront parks and have always been inspired by them—I have been dreaming of activating the waterfront with dance performances. I also truly love the borough and LIC’s thriving arts community and wanted to contribute to the cultural visibility of Queens. (FYI: LIC has among the highest concentration of art galleries, art institutions, and studio space of any neighborhood in NYC).
In terms of giving guidelines to the artists, I don’t. The only requirement is that they create a new piece that is inspired by their specific site they have chosen. I did a site-visit with all selected artists and encouraged them to spend as much time as they can in the parks to develop their pieces. Other than that they are free to play and create. As long as it is in accordance with the Parks Department, I am all for it!
Many of the artists are very experienced in site-specific dance work and the panel went through a very careful selection process to select those who have experience in site-specific work, show a great talent in dance and choreography, and also align with the values of the festival. We also have scheduled a volunteer day for the artists on which we will work with our local community partners and one of our co-sponsoring organization Partnership for Parks to clean up the parks.
NYFA: What does enacting diversity mean for INSITU Dance Festival?
SS: Enacting diversity means inclusiveness. For INSITU, that means providing free programming that is accessible to a wide population. When I started fleshing out INSITU, it was important to me to have a strong community component to the festival. I integrated a three-month community dance and movement series to foster inclusivity and to enact diversity. It is free and open to all LIC residents and the workshop is designed for all ages, with or without a dance background. The workshops are co-hosted in partnership with the Jacob A. Riis Settlement, a non-profit organization which is based inside Queensbridge Housing Community that works to build and strengthen underserved communities in Western Queens.
We have two important objectives for the workshop. Firstly, it is to establish a platform for all LIC residents to come together. Secondly, it is to bridge the gap between two disparate LIC communities that are physically and often psychologically separated by the Queensboro Bridge. Less than a mile apart, one side of the bridge is experiencing an influx of new developments (Hunters Point, Court Square) and the other side of the bridge is home to the largest public housing community in North America (Queensbridge Houses).
NYFA: As a dancer, you trained in urban and contemporary dance. Can you tell us about your influences?
SS: I have danced my whole life, first as a hobby and then professionally. I grew up in Germany and took my first ballet class at the age of five. I danced in my hometown and my passion grew into a profession after I graduated high school.
I moved to Munich and trained in contemporary, modern, and jazz dance at the Iwanson International School for Contemporary Dance. Then I decided to move to New York City and immerse myself in the underground urban dance scene and for about nine years focused on hip-hop, breakin,’ house, vogue, and locking. It was in 2011 that I started doing more contemporary dance again and since then have been expanding my movement knowledge through caipoeira, contact improvisation, floorwork, Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies, and immersive dance theater.
Through this diverse movement background, I often incorporate different dance and movement styles, building a unique and dynamic visceral movement language. Very obviously, I have a tremendous love for dance in unusual spaces and have become immersed in site-specific dance in public spaces.
I also have a background in the visual arts. My mom is an artist and art teacher and I grew up drawing, painting, sculpting, and designing. Also, in high school, I majored in fine arts. My love for visuals come out in my dance work and most of my choreographies are very visually driven and for me the performing arts is a visual art. I create a variety of works, from dance theater, to site-specific work, dance films, and dance installations, always inspired by the body, movement, space, visuals, and social issues.
NYFA: Why did you choose NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship?
SS: Before I applied for NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship, I participated in NYFA’s Artist as Entrepreneur Boot Camp. This was such a groundbreaking experience and I immediately knew that my work and values as an artist aligned with NYFA’s and that I would chose no other organization to be my fiscal sponsor. I am also part of NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Program.
I truly treasure the individual care and consideration that each Sponsored Artist gets. I was fiscally sponsored by another organization in the past and never really interacted with them nor received the same individual support as I have been receiving from NYFA. It feels good to know that I have the guidance and support of the Fiscal Sponsorship team. I can just pick up the phone or write an email and I always get immediate answers and attention. As an artist in New York, this support is invaluable!
INSITU Site-Specific Dance Festival
Where: Long Island City, NY
Dates and Time: Saturday, July 8 and Sunday, July 9, 12:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Locations: Hunters Point South Park, Center Blvd. bet. 50 Ave. and 54 Ave., Long Island City, NY 11101; Gantry Plaza State Park, 4-09 47th Rd., Long Island City, NY 11101; Queensbridge Park, 41 Rd., 40 Ave. bet. The East River, Vernon Blvd., and 21st St., Long Island City, NY 11101; and Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, NY 11106
More Information: Visit the INSITU Site-Specific Dance Festival website
Svea Schneider is a NYC-based dancer, performing artist, choreographer, and dance educator. She attended the Iwanson School for Contemporary Dance in Germany. Svea holds a BA degree (magna cum laude) in dance anthropology and choreography from NYU, received an emerging artist grant from Brooklyn Arts Council, and was the recipient of the Leo Bronstein Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Arts. Schneider is the founder of KINEMATIK Dance Theater.
KINEMATIK Dance Theater, is a Queens-based urban-contemporary dance company that creates dance theater, site-specific performances, dance installations, dance films, and multidisciplinary performances. KINEMATIK’s mission is to engage and empower people through dance; to build community and raise awareness about important social issues; and use dance as a tool for social justice through performances, dance education, and outreach programs. KINEMATIK has shown work nationally and internationally throughout NYC, Peru, India, and Europe.
– Interview conducted by Priscilla Son, Program Assistant, Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance
NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship’s next quarterly no-fee application deadlines are June 30 and September 30, and you can learn more about NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program here. Read about other exciting projects utilizing sponsorship, in our NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship Directory.
Images: Svea Schneider, Photo Credit: Javier Gamboa; Group Photo, Photo Credit: Prin Rodriquez