Interview by Tonia Trotter
Photos by Ambre Amari
Anna Foshee is the Artistic Director of Sanspointe Dance Company, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing opportunities to artists through the field of contemporary dance. With a focus on creativity, collaboration, and connectivity, Sanspointe produces professional performances, community classes, and workshops for young students with the mission to make modern dance accessible to all. The company’s upcoming performance Here at Children’s Fresh Air Farm in Bluff Park explores the emotions and experiences around community, isolation, grief, and gain during a global pandemic.
You moved to Birmingham to pursue a career in the field of modern dance. Having that opportunity as a creative professional is a big deal! What led to your involvement with Sanspointe and how has the company expanded its mission since?
I’m originally from Alex City, Alabama. I graduated with a degree in dance from the University of Alabama. After I graduated, I auditioned for Sanspointe and got a job as a dancer with the company. I also took an adjunct teaching position at UAB in the theatre department teaching jazz dance and was commuting several times a week from Montgomery. That was pretty awful, and we finally ended up moving to Birmingham about five years ago.
Sanspointe was founded in 2003 by Michelle Hamff who wanted to showcase modern dance in Birmingham. In 2007, she joined forces with Shellie Chambers to make Sanspointe a nonprofit organization, and then I joined in 2009. When it started, Birmingham had a strong ballet community but not as much love for contemporary dance. By creating this platform for modern dance works and incorporating it as a 501c3, the conversation and space for modern dance was able to expand significantly.
You initially joined as a dancer and reluctantly moved into a leadership role. What motivated you to take that step?
In 2015, Michelle was stepping away from her role to pursue other interests, and our organization was transitioning. She asked if I would be interested in taking a leadership role. At the time, I’d just had a baby, so I said no to the role of Artistic Director. I didn’t feel ready. I joke and say the position was forced on me. But now, I realize that Michelle recognized what I was capable of. Her believing in me and pushing me helped me step up.
Part of stepping into a leadership role was not wanting Sanspointe to end. I joined right after school, and this organization was like a family to me. Financially, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to pursue this career in bigger markets – New York, LA, or Chicago. To be able to find work dancing right after college was incredibly fortunate – and in my home state too! It’s so special to have an employment opportunity like this in Alabama, so I knew it was important to stay. I think that a lot of times we might not feel ready for the next step, even if it’s a great opportunity. But you say yes, and you go forward.
An integral part of Sanspointe’s mission is to offer opportunities within contemporary dance for employment. How have you grown and who is a part of that growth?
Early on, there were four of us. Now, we employ 12 dancers part-time on a project-to-project basis. We usually have two projects per year. All of our dancers are teachers, mothers, lawyers, physical therapists, etc. – women who are multifaceted and pursuing various interests but have a deep love and passion for dance.
We are providing our dancers professional work, performance opportunities, and the platform to create choreography that is shown to audiences. We also champion collaboration with artists in other mediums – often musicians who are performing with us.
Your upcoming performance is an example of art imitating life – an exploration of real-time experiences and emotions born out of the past year and a half. Tell us about the concept and message behind Here.
In 2020, we were writing grants for 2021. We had to cancel our summer intensive program, and we weren’t sure what our future programming would look like. The concept we came up with was born out of that feeling. Our upcoming show is titled Here. We didn’t know where we would be or where we would be going, but we knew we were here in the present.
In Here, we are working with Rachel Inman from The Dance Foundation as our guest choreographer. Here is a statement about the community we lost and the community we gained during the ongoing pandemic. There was a real period of isolation – particularly last year. And this piece explores that experience of missing people you can’t see who you may have taken for granted before and how strange grief feels when you have to process it from afar.
Here really leans into the collaborative and community-driven focus of Sanspointe’s work. First, the performance takes place in a community space in your own neighborhood. And second, you’re encouraging open participation – including people who don’t necessarily have a dance background. Why are these two factors especially important to you?
Children’s Fresh Air Farms in Bluff Park is the perfect setting for this event. The history of this property and its mission has resonated with me for some time. It was established in the 1920s as a summer respite for under-resourced children who lived in the city and “needed fresh air.” A group of women took on the role of “camp mothers.” They cooked, gardened, and sewed clothes for the children who were living here for the summer. When I first visited Fresh Air Farms, I felt that sense of community and knew there were stories here. Bluff Park has a deep history of fostering the arts that perhaps has faded over time. I hope to remind and reignite the community around the arts. I would love to see more opportunities for dance and expression up here.
Here is a collaborative performance. We have professional dancers combined with members of our community who’ve never danced a day in their lives. The goal is to break down any sense of perceived intimidation or exclusivity about dance and focus on telling our collective stories through movement. We are exploring the experiences of how life in a pandemic affects us – the good and the bad, from the perspectives of children and adults. Not everyone is a verbal communicator, and movement allows space for expression in a physical way. There’s something cathartic and powerful about that.
What keeps you inspired to create art and conversation through dance in our city?
I think a lot of folks think about the Arts & Culture scene as something reserved for bigger cities, but I take dance wherever I go. The arts are for everyone – including those in small communities, and it’s important to rally around that and celebrate it. We have stories too, and they’re just as legitimate.
Purchase tickets for the September 24 – 25 performances of Here and learn more about the outdoor, live-music, contemporary dance event.