Conscious Dancer’s story begins in the summer of 2006 in Berkeley, California. It was about that time that Mark Metz, (a seasoned vinyl DJ and accomplished metal sculptor), began to attend Dance Jam, a long-running freestyle dance that he now hosts. Mark had previously been the proprietor of a clothing and music shop called Ameba in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the 90’s that was a hub in the emerging world of underground electronic dance music and DJ culture. He begun writing extensively about dance, music, and consciousness in those years, influenced by his association with author Terence McKenna, and was referred to at the time as the “Timothy Leary of the Rave Scene.”
It was at Dance Jam that he met Aspen Madrone, who would become both the co-founder of Conscious Dancer and the mother to their daughter Geneva, and they began to travel around the West Coast and Hawaii, visiting various dance communities. Participating in the vibrant growth of “barefoot-freestyle-ecstatic” dance events around the world, and experiencing established and upcoming movement modalities such as 5Rhythms and Soul Motion sparked a serious interest and motivation to be more involved in the field.
They were both looking to reinvent their careers and become entrepreneurs. Mark had a long-running DJ residency at the Unconditional Dance at Harbin Hot Springs in Northern California, and at one point coined a new term by making irreverent business cards describing himself as a “conscious dance facilitator.” In the post-rave years, the opportunity to continue developing his vinyl-DJ practice in the absence of alcohol and illicit substances was especially appealing.
So it was one morning after the dance at Harbin in late March that Mark was soaking in the hot pool when the idea “What if there was a magazine called Conscious Dancer?” lit up like a light bulb above his head. The decision was made that this was the business to launch, and on April 1st, 2007 the domain was registered, social media accounts were created, and a claim was staked throughout cyberspace announcing the birth of Conscious Dancer to the world.
Things began to move really fast after that. A printed announcement was circulated around the Bay Area, and by late summer the first advertisers had been confirmed and a mock-up of the first edition was created. This was when a fortuitous phone call came in, and Mark found himself in a rapid-fire conversation with Laura Cirolia, who would rapidly become one of the foremost figures in the Conscious Dancer story.
She rattled off her credentials, and professed her enthusiasm for the field of dance and higher consciousness, before saying “And I just happen to have over 20 years experience as a magazine art director!” We immediately welcomed her aboard, and with a couple of small tweaks to our first edition, she became a permanent and influential leader of the creative team, greatly contributing to the world-class look and feel of the magazine. It also offered her an opportunity to develop her photography skills, which became one of the hallmarks of Conscious Dancer.
Launching a print publication on both the eve of the economic downturn of 2008 and the industry’s shift to digital formats was a risky proposition, however, the field welcomed Conscious Dancer Magazine with open arms, and with the support of advertisers and movement modalities, a more-or-less quarterly publishing schedule was established and 21 editions were printed until spring of 2012.
Covering all the major modalities, with stories and groundbreaking interviews with leaders such as Anna Halprin, Gabrielle Roth, and Vinn ‘Arjuna’ Martí, the magazine rapidly became known as the authority in the field. A hybrid distribution strategy ensured that the magazine would be noticed far and wide. Besides local Bay Area circulation and subscriptions, bundles of promotional copies were sent around the world to be placed at hot spots for the movement.
From Findhorn in Scotland to retreat centers in Maui, Costa Rica, and Indonesia, people were picking up and talking about Conscious Dancer everywhere that the movement was happening. Destinations like Esalen, Omega, Kripalu, and Rancho la Puerta all enjoyed complimentary copies for their clientele. This, more than anything else, is what spread the word and established the term ‘conscious dance’ throughout the world.
Several years of serious publishing combined with having a child and navigating a relationship eventually took it’s toll on the founding couple, and by 2012 they had rearranged their lives and shifted to co-parenting from separate homes. Aspen sold her interest in the business to Mark and he began to re-evaluate the business model.
Supporting the printing and national distribution of a full-color publication entirely through ad sales was proving to be less-than-viable, while at the same time the teachers and primary stakeholders in the field weren’t being provided with a range of services that would actually help them grow their practices. People were clamoring for a professional organization specifically suited to the field, and Conscious Dancer was in the obvious position to fill that role.
In fact, when the entire business model was examined in terms of the needs of the field and the prior approach, it became clear that trying to be a nationally distributed newsstand magazine wasn’t the right path for this project. The value there is in convincing large companies such as footwear, apparel, and food manufacturers that the ‘conscious dance’ demographic is a lucrative market and then selling them advertising in order to reach them.
A service organization working directly with the teachers and training programs to promote their work and improve their marketing is much more in line with the original goals of intentions of the founders. It’s almost as if Conscious Dancer was a trade magazine that lacked an umbrella organization to support.
So in 2012, the Dance First Association was established. Serving the primary stakeholders in the field, from fledgling facilitators to top training programs, retreat centers, and educational institutions, Dance First provides a suite of services designed to ease and enhance the promotional and outreach abilities of it’s members.
One of the key features is the online MoveMap, hosted at ConsciousDancer.com. This global resource is a clearinghouse for a wide variety of somatic and conscious dance classes, workshops, and events. Dance First members post all of their activities on the map, making it easy for dancers and mind-body enthusiasts to locate events near them.
Dance First members also enjoy social media assistance and amplification on seven different Conscious Dancer networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Reddit, and Instagram.
The Conscious Dancer website is also a public platform for articles and features, somatic education videos, and the Conscious Dancer podcast. Members have access to educational resources, articles, and video trainings designed to help them build their practices and learn the essentials of online and in-person marketing.
Since 2012, Mark Metz has been publishing a weekly newsletter & blog called Monday Love. This popular email series features an inspiring article and a spotlight on a different Dance First member each week. It also delivers a list of over 100 links to Dance First member’s destination events, workshops, and retreats happening all over the world.
Together with the team that includes Community Manager Sara Earl, Dance/Movement Therapist Orit Krug, and Membership Assistant Haider Farouk, they all contribute to the support and service of Dance First members.
Conscious Dancer and the Dance First Association continue to provide the primary resource to the field and build upon their established reputation as the authority and voice for the expanding movement. With an international ambassador program, new product lines, affiliate relationships, and continued creative collaborations coming online, the horizon keeps expanding for this vibrant organization and the global community it serves.