Carolyn Paine is almost always on her toes. The entrepreneur/actor/dancer/comedian extraordinaire has years of dancing and instruction under her belt and a relentless creative streak.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price met with Paine over coffee to discuss CONNetic Dance, the Hartford-based dance troupe Paine formed in late 2009. She is currently Founder, Director, and Choreographer.
Enhancing Hartford’s Artistic Enterprise
Paine studied drama and art history at the University of Hartford. After graduation, she lived and danced in New York City for several years, where she says, “The city was oversaturated with so many opportunities for dance.” After dancing with others, Paine became interested in doing more choreography and starting her own company.
That sparked the idea to start CONNetic Dance, an innovative, professional contemporary ballet company for the city of Hartford, where she had some roots and felt the community would truly benefit from more dance and dance education.
CONNetic Dance works under the umbrella of Artists in Real Time, a non-profit organization with a mission to “enhance the enterprise, business expertise, technical resources, and public awareness of artists—primarily in the Greater Hartford area—through events, programs, and partnerships with other artists, individuals, and private and public organizations.”
As part of Artists in Real Time, CONNetic Dance is funded through grants from the city, corporate funding, and private donations. Paine notes the organization may annually receive just $1,200 in funding. The Nutcracker Suite and Spicy, the troupe’s signature holiday show, costs close to $20,000 to produce.
Watch the CONNetic Dance Nutcracker Suite & Spicy 2015 Promo:
Additional CONNetic Dance performances have included Dracula, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Alice in Wonderland. The troupe was also commissioned by and collaborated with the Wadsworth Atheneum to create a new contemporary ballet based on its 2015 Coney Island exhibit.
“This was one of our most daring and innovative shows,” Carolyn recalls, “It included aerial dancing, which another company dancer and I trained to do.”
As part of the troupe’s efforts to “make dance accessible and inspiring to all audiences,” CONNetic Dance frequently offers free performances at events throughout Greater Hartford at the Wadsworth Atheneum, the New Britain Museum of Art, Elizabeth Park, and Hartford-area schools upon request.
“A community like Hartford loves art,” Paine notes. “There are plenty of opportunities, but not as much with dance. You can’t just create art and not reach out to people who can’t experience it. Art, music, and dance should be experienced by everyone.”
She adds that, “To reach a broader audience—even beyond Hartford—I am especially interested in creating choreography with CONNetic Dance for projects such as short films, including a short dance horror film based on Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart,’ which won an award with a film festival in NYC last fall.”
Paine continues, “I am also interested in combining media when it comes to art. For example, earlier this year we created a live installation performance art piece for Open Studios Hartford in which dancers were covered in paint and dancing on a giant canvas, creating splatter art from our movements. The art created told an amazing and beautiful contemporary art story of movement. These are some of the ways I love evolving and pushing where dance can go with CONNetic Dance.”
Providing Opportunities for Hartford Artists
“I will go out of my way to hire Hartford-area performers,” Paine says. A majority of the CONNetic Dance performers are Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts CREC alumni. “There is great talent growing here and there are people who need opportunities,” she emphasizes. “There are not a lot of dancers in the area, I enjoy giving them a chance to perform.”
To that end, Paine auditions new dancers for performances every year. However, she notes that a core group of six to seven dancers have been with the company since the beginning. “They are the heart of the company.”
What’s more, Paine collaborates with local artists including Nina Salazar, who is the company’s resident artist and production designer; The Art of Tao LaBossiere LLC; and Tainted Inc. for sets, costumes, and makeup. She strongly believes in being eco-friendly, noting that the company has used the reverse side of billboards for backgrounds and made costumes from recycled/repurposed materials.
“I’d love to collaborate even more with other artists in Hartford, especially Sea Tea Improv because of my comedy background and professional experience,” Paine adds. “I am excited to see that collaboration happen once the troupe gets settled in their new theatre!”
Committed to The Hartford Community
CONNetic Dance is also involved in the community with education and outreach programs. The organization has partnered with The United Way to offer a summer school dance program at New Britain public schools and previously teamed with West Hartford’s Ballet Theatre Company and their Give Kids a Chance through Dance Charity.
“An important part of the arts is getting the cycle going,” says Paine. “We are working to create a cycle—something you can do to make a difference and inspire. It really does make a difference.”
CONNetic Dance has also performed at AIDS Connecticut fundraisers and has danced along with Cirque du Soleil at the Cirque du Cure ball for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at The Hartford Convention Center.
In addition, the company also has served as Fairy Godmothers, collecting prom dress donations and providing dance lessons for the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive.
With regard to entrepreneurship, Paine says, “It’s hard working for myself, both running CONNetic Dance and continuing to work as a freelance dancer, actress, and comedian. I end up traveling a lot, so I have to work hard to balance my time and stay organized since I alone carry all the administrative and artistic weight of CONNetic. So if I don’t get it done, it won’t get done.”
She adds that, “It’s a lot of balls to juggle, but it is worth it to get to do everything I love and to have the opportunity to create. Just like anyone who runs their own business, it is exhausting but more rewarding than you can imagine.”
What’s next for CONNetic Dance?
Paine is currently working on a David Bowie tribute through dance, which she hopes to roll out sometime this spring. “I love the challenge of creating something new,” she says.