Jo Dierdorff, Professor of Dance at Riverside Community College produced a series of fifteen concerts to benefit the fight against HIV/AIDS. In response to this pandemic, more than 150 dancers, choreographers, musicians, and designers from Southern California and other regions of the U.S. and Mexico gave their time artistry to mourn and to celebrate the lives of those who have been affected by this disease
It is often true that we donate to charities and become involved with various organizations and cause because of some direct personal experience. Such was the case with me when I decided to produce an AIDS benefit concert. A dear friend of mine, Joe Stout, from Seattle, Washington, died in spring of 1990. He had been living with HIV/AIDS for several years. Although I knew the disease had claimed many lives, Joe’s death affected me personally. I had been in Seattle the last summer of his life and saw first hand the devastating toll it takes on the person, their family and their friends.
So many of us in the dance world have been directly and indirectly affected by the HIV/ AIDS pandemic. We have lost friends, lovers, mentors and colleagues. In talking to my dance friends I realized how helpless we all felt. None of us had great sums of money to donate but all felt driven to do something.
The logical step for me was to use dance to express how I felt about the loss. I choreographed a piece, Taste of Ashes , which was performed in the Riverside City College Faculty concert in 1990 and in several other concerts in the Southern California area. In talking with other dance artists and friends I realized that many of us were using choreography to express our feelings of frustration and sadness in the face of tremendous loss. The next step for me was to bring together a group of dancers and choreographers in concert as a way to raise funds for the many programs of the Inland AIDS Project based in Riverside.
With the support of the RCC dance department, I produced Dancers for Life, an AIDS benefit concert, January of 1991. All dancers and choreographers involved in the concert donated their time and talents to the concert so that we were able to donate all proceeds to the Inland Aids Project in Riverside, California. The performers, choreographers and all involved in the concert felt so strongly about the experience that it was clear to me that the concert needed to become an annual event at RCC. The energy and love that poured forth from all involved was tremendous motivation to continue. We felt that with this concert we were able to do something constructive, something positive in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Dancers for Life became a vehicle for dance artists and choreographers to respond to the AIDS pandemic and contribute work that translates into resources for people living with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. The mission of Dancers for Life was to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and to raise money for HIV/AIDS programs. With 15 years of concerts, Dancers for Life raised over $70,000 for local and international HIV/AIDS programs.
Dancers for Life 15, the last AIDS benefit concert produced at RCC in 2009, donated the funds raised to the Fuyang AIDS Orphan Salvation Association, a grassroots NGO in Central China that cares for children living with HIV/AIDS. The orphanage provides education for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and provides education in communities in which these children live and suffer from stigmatization and discrimination.
Dancers for Life also sought to expand dance presentations in the Inland Empire; to expand performance opportunities for local, national and international artists; and to expose the Inland Empire Community to contemporary dance through performance initiatives and education. Since its inception, Dancers for Life showcased more than 150 local, national and international choreographers and dance artists producing exciting dance works.
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