Moving Current Twirls Tampa Onto National Stage

It will probably be a while before Tampa can be considered a national mecca for modern dance. But in recent years, the area's surprisingly strong dance scene has started to emerge from the shadows to grab a bit of the national spotlight.

Much of the credit belongs to Moving Current, the  company widely acknowledged as Tampa's premiere modern dance group.

A trio of prominent local choreographers founded Moving Current 12 years ago, and its reputation has grown steadily since.

In fact, this year, for the first time, dancers from other parts of the country have relocated to Tampa, just for the opportunity to work with Moving Current. That has never happened in Tampa before.

Maybe even more significantly, Moving Current's impact has been so strong locally that people who don't care a whit about modern dance are at least passingly familiar with the company.

"Now when I go different places and I mention Moving Current, people say, 'Oh, I've heard of that.' " says Erin Cardinal, one of the company's founders and co-artistic directors. "That never happened until pretty recently."

Local dance aficionados have benefited in a couple of ways from Moving Current's burgeoning reputation.

Growing A Fan Base

The most direct benefit has been in the quality of the three annual Moving Current concerts at the University of South Florida. The concerts feature stronger dancers and a wider choreographic vision as dancers from other areas join the company's ranks. Moving Current's concerts are among the highlights of the local dance season. They've developed a solid and growing fan base, even while attendance for concerts by big-name national acts at local performing arts centers has dropped off.

And new dancers who have come to Tampa to join the company – and local dancers who can now stay in town at the University of South Florida (USF), the University of Tampa, St. Petersburg College or other local dance programs, rather than heading off to New York to pursue a dance career -- have produced their own work at such venues as the Ritz Theater and the Hillsborough Community College theater in Ybor City.

Another benefit of Moving Current's growing national reputation shows in its ability to attract guest artists from around the country. In recent months, Detroit's Paula Kramer, Miami's Bill Doolin and Nathan Dryden, an internationally renowned aerial choreographer based in Seattle, have presented works here, often using Moving Current dancers.

Without Moving Current, it's unlikely that these artists would find a forum for their work in Tampa.

Sowing The Seeds

The company's roots go back to the late 1990s, when choreographers Cynthia Hennessy and Elsa Vabuena floated the idea in a conversation with Cardinal.

Like most dancers who learned their art in Tampa, Cardinal figured she'd have to leave her hometown to develop her career. Indeed, not long after she graduated from USF, she headed to New York City.

She was doing OK there, performing with Pedro Alejandro Dance. She was a featured performer with a respected company in one of the greatest cities in the world for performing arts. She was reviewed in the New York Times. Her career seemed to be on the right track.

A visit back home changed the course of her career and the face of performing arts in Tampa.

"I had actually just come back to study massage therapy." Cardinal says. "I was going to go back to New York and that was going to be my day job. There just had to be something better than working at T.G.I. Friday's."

During that visit, Hennessy and Valbuena, two of her friends from the local dance community, approached her with the idea of forming a new kind of dance company for Tampa. It would have a triumvirate of artistic directors. It would be a collective that could create and present a broad spectrum of modern dance, instead of offering the vision of a single artistic director.

As magnetic as a promising dance career in New York may have seemed, the chance to sow the seeds of modern dance here at home proved irresistible. She didn't have to think long before accepting the offer.

Taking To Tampa's Stages

Now dancers from around the country regularly send videos of their work to Moving Current, just on the chance they might get to dance here. The quality has been so strong recently that Cardinal, Hennessy and new Artistic Director Kristin O'Neal accepted more new dancers than they had planned. (Valbuena left Moving Current to concentrate on her own Tampa-based company, Gaudere Danza.)

"We're a huge company now," Cardinal says.

In recent years, a highlight of Moving Current's season has been its New Grounds concert in the spring. New Grounds offers aspiring chrogeographers – some of them students, others corps dancers who don't have the chance to develop their own work with the companies they dance for – an opportunity to showcase their work on a professional stage with top-quality dancers. New Grounds has become so well-known that it has moved beyond its regional focus and now brings in applications from around the United States and even other countries.

Cardinal allows that Tampa is a long way from becoming a national focal point for modern dance. But thanks to a plethora of excellent performance spaces and the work of Moving Current, it's a lot closer than it was 12, eight or even two years ago.

"There are other cities that are more supportive of dance," Cardinal says. "But Tampa has so much going for it. Between USF, the new theater at HCC, and the TECO Energy Foundation Theater at the (Straz) Performing Arts Center, which is a great size for dance, I think Tampa has a shot."

Marty Clear is a Tampa-based freelance writer who specializes in writing about the performing arts. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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Marty Clear has been writing for various publications in the Tampa Bay area for more than 40 years, mostly covering the performing arts. He studied journalism at the University of South Florida and works nights at downtown Tampa’s legendary Hub bar. He goes to theater, dance and opera every chance he gets (in other words, any time he can afford it or he can cop a free ticket). He used to own a record store/ live music venue in Ybor City called Blue Chair. The first thing you may notice about him is that he’s 6’7”, and to answer your question, no, he doesn’t play basketball. He writes about West Tampa and other topics for 83 Degrees. Follow him on Twitter @martinclear.