This past August, the National Park Service celebrated a milestone birthday. For the past 100 years, the agency has preserved the country’s national parks and monuments and has allowed the public to enjoy their beauty as well.
Photographer Jonathan Givens has appreciated the parks since he was young, when he would make visits to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and relish its impressive magnificence. “As a Boy Scout,” he recalls, “I learned about the importance of conservation and stewardship of the land, and as an adult, I see how important it is to keep these places for future generations, both as an important part of our ecosystem, as well as a piece of our cultural heritage.”
Now, many years, later, Givens is doing his part in honoring America’s majesty, and he is using dance and photography as his vessel. From June through September, the former actor/dancer/singer, who has been photographing dancers since he first picked up a camera and who formed his company, Entertainment Photography Specialists, in 2010, drove to all 48 contiguous states (and flew to Alaska and Hawaii) to photograph a dancer at a national park, national historic location or state park. His project is called Dance Across the USA, and Givens’ images will be collected in a book to be released on December 1, to benefit the parks and the National Endowment for the Arts.
A firm believer that dance is incredibly beneficial to both children and adults, Givens hopes that Dance Across the USA will not only give recognition to America’s parks but also to the art form. “As a recreational activity, dance promotes good social skills, interpersonal interaction, partnering, working together and, of course, physical activity,” Givens says. “Dance teaches children about success, achieving goals, the rewards that come from hard work and how attention to detail will make all the difference.”
Givens received over 2,800 dancer submissions to partake in Dance Across the USA. Wanting to show as much diversity as he could, Givens and his team chose a group of dancers ranging in age from three to 74, all who varied in their style of dance. His selection of locations varied, too – from the mountainous Glacier National Park in Montana to the historic buildings of New Orleans’ French Quarter, from the iconic Statue of Liberty in New York City to the mystical Antelope Canyon in Arizona.
In order to gain access to some of these locations in a way that showed “good stewardship”, Givens spent almost $20,000 on permits. “By getting permits, we receive unprecedented access to these locations and have a guide who will show us places that most people do not even know about,” Givens shares. “We have had rangers drive us on their maintenance trails to locations miles away from where we started, that otherwise would have been inaccessible. I want to set a good example for both the dancers and other photographers and not need to run away from the rangers, police or security.”
For every shoot, each dancer brought a suitcase full of dancewear choices, and Givens selected what would pair best with each location. He says he didn’t want to “costume” the dancers but instead show the personal style of each subject. And, as a photographer also knowledgeable about dance, he was able to guide them to look their best.
Kennedy Butterfield, an 11-year-old dancer from Washington Township, Michigan, participated in the shoot at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along with two other dancers. She says she was in awe of the views and honored to be a part of Givens’ mission.
“The national parks were something I was not familiar with when this started,” Butterfield shares. “It was so amazing to me that there are these protected spots all over the United States. It really opened my eyes. It’s so important to bring attention to these parks so people start to visit them again. I feel like families are so busy these days and feel like they can’t afford to go on vacation, not realizing how close a vacation actually is. Pictured Rocks was a six-hour drive, and I felt like we were in another state.”
Dance Across the USA is a completely donation-driven project. With the high costs of permits and travel expenses, Givens is appreciative of any support and has set up a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdrise to help raise funds. When the Dance Across the USA book is released later this year, $1 will be donated to the parks and $1 will go toward the National Endowment for the Arts, specifically for education in the arts.
“I believe in Dance Across the USA, not for personal gain but as a way to benefit both the industry that I love – dance as an art form – as well as the parks that mean so much to me,” Givens says. “Every single dancer in this project feels the same way, and I am proud to be working with them.”
For more information on Dance Across the USA project, head to www.danceatusa.com, and to make a contribution, visit www.crowdrise.com/dance-across-the-usa/fundraiser/danceatusa.
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Jennifer Ferguson for Dance Across the USA. Photo by Jonathan Givens.