Dance Initiative: For dancers by … a nondancer |

Dance Initiative: For dancers by … a nondancer

Angelyn Frankenberg
Post Independent Contributor

Nonprofit Spotlight

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The Launchpad

76 S. Fourth St., Carbondale


Dance Initiative was founded by Peter Gilbert in 2009 to provide creative opportunities for area dancers and to foster community appreciation for dance.

Gilbert, who was born in Manhattan and lived there most of his life, is not a dancer himself. His introduction to the art came when he “fell in love with a dancer” at age 16. He learned about dance from his love interest, and her theater family and produced some performances in college. The relationship did not last, but Gilbert’s passion for dance remained while he completed his undergraduate degree at Harvard and an MBA at Columbia. He considered a career in dance production but “did the responsible thing” and went to work in the family business, a small manufacturing firm based in Queens, New York.

Gilbert credits his wife of 42 years, Aileen, with the family’s Coloradan status. Aileen’s business travel as a marketing executive with a ski clothing company introduced the family to ski resorts around the country, and they eventually bought a second home in the Roaring Fork Valley. In 2003, after dividing their time between New York City and Colorado for almost 10 years, they decided on one home — in Carbondale.

According to Gilbert, Aileen says their life together is “like being married to an 18-year-old,” because he never got past his dream of being involved in dance. Now retired from the family business, he is living that dream by facilitating dance development in the valley and neighboring counties.

At 60, Gilbert took his first ballet class at Glenwood Dance Academy (now part of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet), where his classmates were mostly 9- and 10-year-old girls. The experience underscored his belief in the importance of the arts in children’s education and also led him to meet many of the area’s dancers, teachers and choreographers. He was impressed with their talent and dedication but understood they needed more opportunity to stretch their creative legs and to make a living doing what they are trained to do.

Gilbert founded Dance Initiative to foster that opportunity. Besides developing the Spectrum performances and festival, the organization has brought highly regarded dancers and choreographers to Carbondale and has facilitated collaboration among area teachers and students. It awards an annual education grant to an area teacher and started its Promise Scholarship program this year to identify and support students who show promise as professional dancers. Nikki Ferry, 16, received the first Promise Scholarship after participating in Suki Schorer’s August master class sponsored by Dance Initiative.


Affording studio space is difficult for most teachers and performers, so Gilbert wanted to create professional quality studios that area teachers can rent by the hour or class.

“I believe in collaboration,” Gilbert said, describing Dance Initiative’s partnership with the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities in creating The Launchpad, located in the Carbondale Library’s former home on Fourth Street. The building’s two dance studios both have professional grade spring-loaded floors, and one of them has a high ceiling and rigging for aerial arts. The building also houses an art gallery and CCAH’s office.

Dance Initiative’s new physical space further supports the creative interplay among dance and movement artists in the valley and neighboring counties. “Everybody who comes in is starting to dream about doing something else with somebody else,” Gilbert said.

Deborah Colley is one local teacher who is benefiting from Dance Initiative’s work. From California, Colley had studied dance through college but was teaching environmental science before she moved to Carbondale. She explored opportunities to get back into dance and choreographed some productions Gilbert produced with local dancers.

This collaboration motivated Colley to get training as a dance teacher and to start the dance company, CoMotion, which Dance Initiative has taken on as one of its projects.


This year, Dance Initiative is bringing nationally known choreographer, Molissa Fenley to Carbondale for its first artist in residence program. Gilbert is also committed to providing more opportunities for younger dance students in the area. He believes that with community support, local teachers and schools can provide every child with the opportunity for dance education at a price their families can afford.

Gilbert is working to make Dance Initiative financially sustainable for the long term. Grants will continue to be important, but community support is necessary for a viable future. He is working on the details but believes that support will grow as the organization gives more to the community.

Dance Initiative has been a “virtual organization” for its first five years, operating with an advisory board but no office or additional staff. Gilbert said some growth will be necessary and that giving back to the community will include producing more programs. But he plans to “produce a little and facilitate a lot,” keeping Dance Initiative’s focus on bringing other people together to spark community creativity.

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