The 2009 Sage Awards for Dance


by John Munger | 9/25/09 • How does a nominee feel?

For readers who may need some explanation, the “Sage Awards” are the Twin Cities annual awards for outstanding something-or-other in dance. They’re like the Iveys for theater, the Bessies in New York, the Izzies in San Francisco, and, on an international level, like the Oscars for film.

going through the movements is the blog of john munger, one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet.

I was nominated this year (full disclosure) in two categories.  This news came to me as two envelopes on Monday the 14th, nine days ahead of the ceremony. Before opening them I thought, “Probably promo for the Awards. I should write back and tell them they’ve got me duplicated.

Then I opened them and they were two separate invitations related to nominations in two separate categories. Moment of dropped jaw.

For the next three or four hours I had all the reward and joy that anyone could need. I was touched, honored, humbled, exhilarated and giddy.  A few days later when the other nominees became public I reached a swift conclusion that I would be an also-ran in both categories. But it didn’t matter. I’ve been a Sage Panelist, I know how that system works, and I was truly, deeply honored by the nominations. It was enough, and more, for me.

An interesting thing is that the Sage Committee and the Sage Panelists have always chosen to maintain secrecy about the awardees. Kind of like the Oscars. And when the Awards started five years ago thanks to the vision and effort of Stuart Pimsler and Dana Holstad, they were also secret about nominees. This has sometimes been awkward. The year that I was a panelist I knew a particular recipient with whom I had a professional relationship. So I was the one designated to approach her and get her to come to the ceremony without telling her why. She had never dreamed she might be up for a Sage Award and was very much not inclined to come at all. It was a tricky sell, a hard sell. I got her to show up.

For the past couple years they’ve publicized the names of the nominees in advance, and that seems like a good compromise. Again, like the Oscars.  I know they have worried about the “disappointment effect” but my own experience was otherwise.

I was totally convinced that I had intuitive good guesses as to who would be winning, and it wasn’t me. (Ultimately I was right about 40% of the time.) Believing that it wouldn’t be me was so liberating. It was as if the decades of waiting to hear about fellowships, waiting to hear about audition results, waiting to hear about grants, waiting to hear about gigs, and all the other “waiting to hear” moments just slipped away. I felt like I’m done with that stuff. I had been nominated and that was enough. It made me happy, joyous and free.  I guess it’s taken me a lifetime (I’m 64 now) to get to that place of serenity.

The day arrived. My dear wife Sharon had to do some work at Macalester and would join us later. I arranged Mumma (Sharon’s mother who lives with us) into her portable wheelchair, we made it to the Walker nice and early, and we got situated in the accessible front row where House Manager Max Wirsing had removed a chair to accommodate Mumma’s wheels.

To my astonishment and delight, my first cousin Carolyn from Grand Rapids, MN, was sitting in the fourth row. She had said she couldn’t come but there she was. Change of plans. She moved down to our row and then Sharon showed up. I felt slightly itchy that all these family members had made such an effort to be there because I was sure I wasn’t actually winning anything, But it was cool.

Meanwhile, I ran into Matt Peiken setting up his camera high in the back rows and we had a brief hoot of a time (which he taped and put on his 3 Minute Egg video blog) congratulating each other on being nominees who weren’t going to win.

The show started. And by the end of the night it proved to be a wonderful event. I’ve watched the Sage Awards refine and edit and alter and tweak their format for five years now, and it’s settling into place.  I would like to quote a theater writer who attended and said, “No red carpet, no paparazzi, no glamorous photos on print ads, no VIP pre-party …The event is much less formal (than the Ivey Awards for theater), and yet somehow more elegant. … I was so charmed by these artists and truly educated by their thoughts, that not only was the evening an inspiring celebration of community, but it succeeds as a PR event because it made me want to see  a whole lot more dance.” Thank you Stuart, Dana, plus all the panelists  and Committee members over all the years.

And then …. I was the FIRST winner announced.  Wham!!

Folks, dear readers, colleagues, friends, I did what had to be done. I bounded forward with a smile, said some heartfelt thankyous and a few other words, accepted the plaque/artwork, then sat down. I felt grateful to have received the award and I felt a tiny pang of remembered pain on behalf of other nominees who were younger and who maybe wanted, needed and deserved the recognition.

So, I now must confess that even though I was sure I would not win, I still had prepared my thoughts (and there was a file card in my pocket) in case somehow I did win. What I want to share is the nature of the file card I DIDN’T use, for the other nomination that I didn’t win. It was the “Special Citation” award for people who have made a serious difference for dance in Minnesota.

I was going to read my list of who I thought deserves that award, and I limited myself to people who had been doing what they do for 20 years or more in this community. There were 17 names on that list. Including my wife, Sharon. She has taught at Macalester for 20 years and off and on at Zenon for over 30. And she’s not alone as an uncelebrated co-creator of this community.

What my experience at the Wednesday night awards ceremony tells me is that the larger context we  enjoy is this: The Twin Cities are nationally recognized by dance professionals across the country as one of the five or six most exciting and most significant dance communities in the nation. And it’s true.

I am honored, humbled, overjoyed and grateful to be part of this wonderful community. Each of us can only pull our own oar. All the oars matter. We deserve to thank each other.

That’s how this nominee felt.

John Munger ( has been performing, teaching, choreographing, researching and writing about dance for about 40 years. He teaches at Zenon, day-jobs for Dance/USA, and still hasn’t gotten much of it right.

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