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Elizabeth HollenbeckThe Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) is a national alliance of institutions with significant collections of materials that document the history and artistic achievements of the dance profession. Their mission is to preserve those materials and make them accessible for research and enjoyment. With grant funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the DHC has been able to offer summer Fellowships in Archives and Preservation for groups of seven MLS students or recent graduates. This past summer of 2013, I was selected to be a Fellow, and I am very glad to have the chance to share a little about my experiences.

The DHC Fellowship is organized into three segments. First, I met the other Fellows in Chicago for a week of orientation together with the DHC staff, where we had a series of information sessions and tours that would prepare us for what lay ahead. We spent time at the Newberry Library discussing archival work and getting hands-on experience with dance collection materials, as well as touring their top-class preservation lab. We also visited the Chicago Film Archive, and performed an assessment of a local dance company’s archive as a group. By the end, we had learned vital information about working with archival collections comprised of a huge variety of materials, including documents, photographic negatives and prints, electronic files, costumes, memorabilia, choreographic notes, scrapbooks and journals, set pieces, video and film—dance collections are rich and diverse, presenting unique challenges for dance librarians and archivists.

After orientation, the seven of us went to different DHC member institutions around the U.S. for six weeks of intensive study and field work. I was placed at one of the most historic dance venues in the nation: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Jacob’s Pillow is located in Becket, MA, a beautiful rural area, and the home of the oldest theatre built exclusively for dance. For the past eighty years, the top dance companies and dancers from all over the world have come to Jacob’s Pillow to perform in the Festival, and the archive has photographs, videos, and all manner of documentation dating back almost a century. I spent long hours working on two digital projects for the archive, but I also had the chance to take dance classes and watch performances every week. It was exhausting; it was spectacular!

When the six weeks at Jacob’s Pillow came to an end, I traveled to Boston for another six weeks of study and field work, this time in a dance studio whose archive was just getting off the ground. By setting up the Fellowship in this way, the Fellows have two radically different kinds of experiences over the course of the summer, and learn how to function in both a large, established archive, and a smaller archive with somewhat less of a support structure. In Boston, I commuted by ferry to the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio, where I helped with digitizing VHS tapes of their repertory concerts dating back to 1981, and helped to organize and curate video content for future web exhibits. It was a great opportunity to see a different side of the dance world, and what studio businesses do to be successful in an urban environment. 

Through the DHC’s guidance and mentorship, our group of Fellows was exposed to many facets of dance history, as well as the library and archive standards and best practices for handling dance materials that will be essential for our careers. We also learned from each other’s experiences throughout the summer, and fostered connections and relationships that will last for many years to come. Of course, we also had the chance to travel to many places and experience different living and working environments, something that not many people have the chance to do. This was an invaluable, and unforgettable, experience from start to finish. Applications for summer 2014 are now being accepted—I encourage all SLIS students to apply! Find out more information here: http://www.danceheritage.org/apply.html.

page last updated 10/28/2014 12:53 PM