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‘Catalyst Sessions’ recap: Helen Hansen French

Bill DeYoung



Juilliard-trained dancer and choreographer Helen Hansen French returned to her hometown six years ago to find little in the way of organization among creative movement-makers.

“Dance wasn’t as recognized or as robust” as the other arts in St. Petersburg, French explained Thursday on The Catalyst Sessions. “It wasn’t in the public eye as much. But there were actually a lot of dancers here. A lot of professionals teaching at USF; a lot of performers doing solo work. People trying to get together, and I think what we needed at that time was kind of a reason to come together, or a performance goal, so to speak.”

She then co-founded the St. Petersburg Dance Alliance, strong right out of the gate and even stronger (and more populated) today. “I started reaching out to people and saying ‘Hey, do you want to make work? What are you interested in doing? Do you want to show your work? ‘How can we get together?’”

French sent out high-fives to young dancers and troupe leaders Kellie Harmon and Alex Jones, who perform regularly at thestudio@620 and other independent venues.

The annual Beacon Dance concert, curated by French and Lauren Slone and traditionally held in the spring at the Palladium Theater, was cancelled this year because … well, you know why.

Beacon spotlights the very best in the city’s contemporary dance creators; it’s one of the most anticipated, and well-attended, shows of the season.

So why do it only once a year?

“Lauren and I wanted to start out in a way that felt manageable and could grow,” she explained. “And that we’re being financially responsible. We also wanted to provide the ability for people to create, and take some of the financial burden away completely.” The artists are paid.

“So part of the reason we don’t do it more than once a year is finances. The other part is, it takes a long time, or can, to make dance. I love to sit and have time for a piece to marinate and mature. So sometimes we might be working six months before you see the final show.”

French performs with jazz trio La Lucha during Sunday’s We Are Family virtual festival here.

Today (Friday, May 8) on The Catalyst Sessions: Cindy Stovall.

Streaming live at 7 weeknights on the Catalyst Facebook page.





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