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Life and Work with Meredith Hutson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Meredith Hutson.

Meredith, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My mom tells me I have always loved movement. I used to twirl in our kitchen, climb on all the furniture, and pretend I was Peter Pan flying in the trapeze in our backyard. I have always loved to create something from nothing. My favorite toy as a child was my “art box” which was a cardboard box full of art supplies and scraps waiting to be made into something new. My favorite pastime was choreographing dances with my best friend on the weekends. Creation is part of what drives me forward every day.

For most of my childhood, I was surrounded by arts, culture, museums, and educational moments like historical markers during road trips across the Great Plains. Growing up in Oklahoma, my sister and I studied piano and dance balanced with academics, church choir, swim lessons, softball, and Girl Scouts through our elementary school years. When I was seven, my mom put us in modern dance and I was immediately hooked. At ten, I auditioned for Theatre Upon a StarDanceSwan, a children’s dance company under the direction of Lorrie Keller in the Paseo Arts District of Oklahoma City. At the same time, I was accepted into the magnet public school Classen School of Advanced Studies as a dance major. I later changed my focus to visual art. My time at StarDanceSwan coupled with the art program at Classen really allowed me to marinate in the arts daily and be surrounded by mentors that gave me the space to find my own voice. They taught me to be accountable, take risks, stretch my limits, and how to handle both rejection and success with gratitude.

Toward the end of high school, I took summer courses and eventually concurrent enrollment in the dance department at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). A few days a week I would leave school to drive to UCO to take the advanced modern class. I enjoyed taking class with the older students in the big studios at the university where I literally felt like I was flying when we danced across the floor. During my junior and senior years of high school, I also auditioned for the dance program at Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain, where I was able to study with principal dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company during two weeks of the summer. The combination of studying with visiting artists at UCO and Quartz Mountain opened my eyes to dance outside of Oklahoma.

At age 19, I applied to be an intern at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, MA. That summer is still one of my fondest memories and the experience ignited the initial idea for the Presenting Denver Dance Festival, a signature event of Presenting Denver, a non-profit organization I founded in 2013 in Denver, Colorado. My time at the Pillow taught me that dance brings people together from across the world. As a production intern, we had new companies and dancers loading into the theater each week. There was a mash of languages and cultures, but a clear common language of dance. This experience stayed with me into college at the University of New Mexico and had my gears turning constantly about the future. After completing my bachelor’s of art in fine arts in Art Studio and my bachelor’s of art in Dance, I had to decide where I wanted to focus my time. I chose to dance.

After college, I continued to dance in Oklahoma and Denver while working to support myself. My parents instilled in me that I needed to be able to pay my bills and have health insurance (for all the inevitable dance injuries) if I wanted to pursue dance. I chose the path of a full-time job in membership sales, which ended up being a really great balance for me creatively. I was able to acquire new skill sets at work and conclude my days with cross training, dance class, or rehearsal. Working outside of the arts opened a lot of doors for me professionally, and opened my eyes to how I could be impactful in the dance world.

While dealing with a combination of injuries in my late 20s, I sustained an injury that gave me some pause about my future in dance. I decided to take some time away from dancing in a company to work on choreography and think about my life after performing. At the time, I was working in the Membership Department at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce where I was surrounded by inspiring businesses and community leaders. I started to reflect on how I could become a leader for the dance community and decided to participate in leadership courses such as Leadership Arts at Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, and Legacy Denver through the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation. Through conversations and the encouragement of my supportive husband, I founded Presenting Denver in April of 2013.

Presenting Denver has grown from an idea to an organization with approximately 35 regular volunteers. Led by our dedicated board and committed volunteers, Presenting Denver offers a variety of projects and services that help increase public exposure to dance and movement in the Denver metro area.

These days, I am no longer performing, but it brings me great joy to engage with and give back to the community while remaining connected to dance.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
When starting an organization like Presenting Denver, no amount of passion can prepare you for the learning curve ahead. Working on my degree in dance had me focus on things such as dance technique, choreography, performance, and history of dance, but not the business of dance. Don’t get me wrong, I use each of those facets of my education every day, but I strongly believe that arts curriculum in higher education should place a bigger focus on the business of working in the arts in order to better prepare their students for the real world. With Presenting Denver I am fortunate to be surrounded by a team of people I can lean on for guidance, and we have purposefully structured our volunteer roles to encompass the variety of professional specialties needed to make our organization successful. I think it is really important to know what your personal strengths are, and then surround yourself with people who specialize in the areas you lack. I am blessed to be able to work with incredible and highly educated volunteers. Each year we grow I find us faced with a new learning curve, but experience has taught me we will forge ahead and land on top.

Other challenges we faced are common with start-up organizations, such as transforming something from an idea into action, brand recognition, operating on a limited budget, and finding the right board members. The one that surprised me, however, was gaining trust from our community. Early on, in meetings explaining how people or organizations could interact with our Community Calendar, Community Directory and other free services we offer to help share information, I was often asked what was in it for me or the organization. Presenting Denver has never had a full time paid staff and we are primarily volunteer supported. Not all of our volunteers have a background in dance, but our team feels like a community. I am a big believer in doing something because it is the right thing to do. Presenting Denver hopes that what we have created will help to propel our dance community forward for years to come.

As for advice: You have to be a visionary, but that vision has to be coupled with planning, work ethic, patience, humility, fear, curiosity, resilience, self-confidence, teamwork, laughter, and an unwavering drive to succeed. Everyone faces struggles, but try not to let it debilitate you or make you back down from your goals. When you face challenges, try to recognize the logical and emotional parts of the problem, regroup, confide in the people you trust, seek advice, pick yourself back up, and move forward. You also have to balance this with listening to your gut and knowing when to walk away. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t apologize for being successful and always give credit where credit is due. Lead from your heart, not your ego. Don’t let self-doubt plague you. A good night’s sleep is the best way to problem-solve. Be kind to yourself. It is about quality, not quantity. Listen to advice, but go with your gut. Approach all situations with grace. Don’t participate in gossip. Write thank-you notes. Everything you say or do reflects on the organization you work for. It is easy to be naive when you are young, so be aware of others’ intentions and motivations. Get things in writing. Dress and act professionally. Don’t commit to things for exposure, do it because it is the right thing to do. Don’t ever use the phrase “That isn’t part of my job description,” because if you are in a leadership position, or want to be, everything is your part of your job description. No one starts at the top. Nothing is private; be careful what you do, say, and post on the internet. Face challenges head-on. Be a team player. Collaborate and compromise for the greater good. Exercise patience. Good outcomes take good planning. Make to-do lists. Budget. Ask for help when you are in over your head. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will challenge you to be an even better version of yourself. Be the bigger person. Own your faults. Listen and truly hear people. Know your weaknesses and work to improve them. Learn to delegate. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and treat people how you would want to be treated. Roll up your sleeves and do the hard work. Volunteer and give to a cause you believe in. Make time for the people you care about. Realize that friendships will come and go, but family is forever. Listen to your elders. Realize it takes a village to grow a legacy and always give credit to those that helped your vision get there. Lead a life of purpose. Part of being successful is sticking it out, even when others doubt your ability to succeed. Meet deadlines. Be consistent. Don’t overcommit yourself. Stick to your values. Know your boundaries. Work harder than everyone around you. Never give up.

Please tell us about Presenting Denver.
Presenting Denver was founded in 2013 with a commitment to define Denver as an innovative dance hub. Based in Denver, Colorado, Presenting Denver is a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to support the art of dance through increased public exposure and the appreciation of movement as an innovative art form. Our vision is to inspire individuals to connect and reconsider their world through the art of movement.

Our website strives to be a comprehensive source of information and opportunity that increases the knowledge of and access to dance in the Denver Metro. The free services we offer to share or find information about Colorado dance are:

  • Community Directory: A free dance community portfolio that lists information about dance companies, studios, independent instructors, dance-related services and community resources that are available in the Denver metro area.
  • Community Calendar: A free interactive calendar that serves as a public forum for information about dance auditions, classes, festivals, conferences, and other types of dance-related events happening in the Denver Metro area.
  • The Hub: A free community board sharing dance news, employment opportunities, and/or special offers happening in Colorado.

Presenting Denver also works to increase public exposure to dance by way of written coverage and photographic storytelling. These articles are published on our website and shared on social media. These projects are:

  • The Commentary Corner: The Commentary Corner gives a voice to the Denver Metro area dance scene by offering written performance coverage of professional performances or special stories.
  • In The Spotlight: In The Spotlight articles feature interviews with the Presenting Denver Dance Festival and Wine & Works-in-Progress Feedback Session choreographers.
  • Community Spotlight: Q&A articles highlight the diverse world of Colorado dance and dance-specific services offered in the Denver metro area.
  • A Day in the Body of a Dancer: In partnership with Jamie Kraus Photography, this project will tell the story of a day in the life of a dancer through a visual montage of still photography and authored text.

Our signature events are the Presenting Denver Dance Festival (PDDF), which we co-present with The Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts, and Wine & Works-in-Progress Feedback Session, for which we partner with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – Education. Both of these projects have a focus on presenting Colorado dance through a statewide call for submissions. The Dance Festival presents works from Colorado artists ages 18 years or older. Wine & Works-in-Progress Feedback Session seeks applications from Colorado artists ages 13 years and older.

The PDDF is a biennial event that takes place in Denver, Colorado. After years of planning, it was somewhat surreal to see the PDDF come to fruition. The dance festival was a large undertaking for our young organization, but it was also something we really believed would bring new opportunities to Colorado dancers. It was gratifying to see the festival come to life when Presenting Denver was only five years old. Dance festival artists were selected by an independent panel of jurors to perform on either the ticketed Main Stage Showcase or free Public Stage Showcase. The 2018 event included 15 Colorado choreographers and 50+ Colorado dancers. The event was nearly sold out, and both stages performed to standing room only audiences over the weekend in 2018. Currently, we are accepting applications until July 31, 2019, for 2020 Presenting Denver Dance Festival which will take place on June 20-21, 2020 at the University of Denver campus. You can learn more at https://presentingdenver.org/pd-dance-festival/.

Wine & Works-in-Progress Feedback Session is a fun evening of dance by student and professional choreographers. Artists are invited to perform works-in-progress and receive written and facilitated verbal feedback from the audience. This project allows for a safe space in which artists can receive commentary on their work as it is developing. This biennial event will take place again in 2021. As the name implies, we also serve a lot of wine!

Presenting Denver hosts other events during the year and we invite the public to stay in the know by joining our mailing list or following us on social media.

What sets us apart is that both our signature events have a focus on creating new work while aiming to highlight the magnitude of talent in our state. Dance is incredibly expensive to produce and often does not pay for itself strictly from ticket sales. Through both of these projects, we hope that artists are able to share their work with larger audiences without the heavy expense generally associated with self-producing. There is something truly wonderful about seeing our dance community come together, make new connections, and introduce their work to new audiences. Always mission-driven, Presenting Denver places a focus at both events on free or donation-based programming to help make dance more accessible to everyone in our local community.

Who have you been inspired by?
When I was a toddler, my mother continued to work a full-time job, raise two small children and complete her Ph.D. No matter how much she had going on in her life, my mother was always there to help me with my homework, drive me to rehearsal, and be my cheerleader every step of the way. My mother, Dr. Judith Black, is the definition of lead by example. Lorrie Keller, the director of Theatre Upon a StarDanceSwan, was my dance mother. Lorrie is magic. Her studio was a safe place for me to grow as a dancer and artist. Every class was a combination of wonderment, technique, and exploration. Karin Stafford was my art teacher in high school at Classen who gave me the room to speak my voice through art without judgment. Without her, I do not think I would have been as successful or pursued a degree in art. All of my professors at the University of New Mexico, but specifically Jennifer Predock-Linnell, Mary Anne Santos Newhall, and Virginia (Ginny) Wilmerding who supplied me with the tools to go bravely into the dance world. Jennifer for being my advisor, mentor, teacher, a collaborator who opened countless doors so I could find my authentic self as a choreographer. Mary Anne who impressed on me the power and knowledge of history and strong technique. Ginny for her inspiring kinesiology lectures and her encouragement to investigate a path in fitness to support myself. These women all shaped me as a woman. Still today, I know I could reach out to any of them with questions and they would be there for me. Everyone needs mentorship and inspiration in life, and I feel fortunate to have known these women.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photography by Amanda Tipton, Jamie Kraus Photography

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