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Meet Meredith Cabaniss of Selah Dance Collective in Southern California

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

Meredith, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have always been a dance and maker. When I was studying dance at UCSB, I started to work on outside projects with other artists as well as in other disciplines. After college, I knew that I wanted to continue dancing and choreographing but realized the limits of my industry outside of the big cities that already had a lot of amazing and well-established dance artists. I realized that there were ways I could maintain a presence on both the West and East Coasts, expand my base, and invest more deeply in my community.

I started working for local dance studios and non-profit organizations that worked to make dance and art more accessible to youth in Santa Barbara County. I started my dance company, Selah Dance Collective, as a way of developing a tight community of dancers and choreographers with a shared vision: to make dance accessible and relatable to all people. Often, as an artist, you have to operate in a “shameless self-promotion mode” to have your work seen; you have to advocate for yourself as to why you deserve your audience.

With Selah, my collaborators and I started to feel the need to make our productions, outreach, and structure more inclusive of other artists. So we created a model for large-scale pop-up productions that allowed other artists to show their work and receive pay for doing so – all without having to become a 501(c)(3) or establish a broad base of financial support.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Dance is the least-funded genre of art. As a full-time teacher and choreographer working for multiples businesses, there is never enough time in the day. There’s also the paralysis that comes from wanting to try something different but watching many other dance companies stick to a traditional model and still be successful. Dance also requires more of its creators and audiences: we need space to create and we need space to perform.

As for funding, becoming an established non-profit has definitely taken work but allows us to work more in that sphere for securing funding and partnering with other non-profits. It will probably always be a rough road for us as a young organization that is trying new things but it also gives us a lot of material to work through in rehearsal.

Please tell us about Selah Dance Collective.
Selah Dance Collective, Inc is a contemporary dance company dedicated to producing original work, creating educational experiences through performance, and maintaining a platform for community dance works and emerging artists through outreach, education, and mentorship.

We specialize in creating and performing contemporary dance works that are accessible and relatable to all people. This means that everything from the content of the work to the way that it is performed is done so intentionally and with the desire of creating a connection. We are known for creating highly athletic work that is balanced with our emphasis on group dynamics, partnership, and connection to the audience.

We are most proud of our local success in broadening the dance audience in Santa Barbara and the quality of work that we maintain, even as we maintain our “regular jobs”. The dancers in our company have an age range of about 14 years, they have jobs as nurses and students and teachers and at major corporations. We believe that dance is for everyone and we make time to create the work we feel is necessary because of it.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I’m not sure. I think the “trial and error” way of doing things is how lessons are best learned. I would probably have asked for more money though! Believing what you are doing is important and advocating for funding and attention to be put towards your project is integral to success.

We had to make a lot of creative decisions through the years based on our lack of funding. I believe that spending the time to develop clarity about who we truly are and what goals we’re going for made it so that now there are fewer errors and more success. Also, developing strategic partnerships can be a way to benefit not just my company but the community at large: through collaboration and shared resources, we can do so much more. We look forward to creating and reaching for more through Selah.

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