DRA- Dancers responding to AIDS.
Fire Island Dance Festival. Est. 1995
Since the first performance in 1995, the annual Fire Island Dance Festival has become one of the most anticipated events in Fire Island Pines.
In 1991 a young dancer named Hernando Cortez with the Paul Taylor Dance Company was seeing many friends pass away from AIDS. He grew frustrated as he saw other organizations had support like DIFFA, LifeBeat, Visual AIDS, and Positive Music. The dance community need support too. Those thoughts helped to created DRA. An organization that provides direct financial assistance and other services to all dance professionals- dancers, administrative personnel, and behind the scenes crew and their domestic partners with HIV or AIDS.
In those beginnings its funds came from curtain call speeches and merchandise selling such as t shirts, mugs, etc. at events. Dancers supported however it took time as some dance companies were uncomfortable with competition for funds. In the end Hernando showed them the difference between the AIDS charity and development.
“It was the worst of times and the worst of times. Jeff Wadlington, my dear friend and fellow dancer, died at a moment in the “great AIDS timeline” that seemed to be its darkest. I looked to the outspoken leaders of the plague — heroes like Peter Staley, Spencer Cox and many others, as role models. Beacons. Our bodies dancing were like their bodies marching. We responded to the crisis. We fought back. We took on AIDS.”
In 1991 at the New York Gay & Lesbian Pride march 100 of his fund raising dancers stole the thunder from sequined Drag Queens. All while they leaped and kicked down Fifth Ave.
At that parade was Rodger McFarlane (on right) one of the godfathers of AIDS activism. McFarlane immediately asked Cortez to come under the umbrella of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS which he directed and Dancers responding to AIDS was born. Also there was Tom Viola who would play a future role in the development. When he asked who they were he was told then and there they were Dancers responding to AIDS. This led to a conversation about how DRA and Broadway Cares could have greater impact if they worked together.
Hernando Cortez was born in Manila, Philippines, and spent his early years in British Columbia, where he began his dance training at Vancouver’s Pacific Ballet Theatre. He graduated with Honors from Purchase College Conservatory of Dance in 1985. He was invited to join Feld Ballets/NY, and in 1987 joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company. He was featured in two PBS/WNET Dance in America specials, and his own choreography is showcased in the Taylor Company’s critically acclaimed smash hit “Funny Papers.” He performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project in their 1998 national tour. A popular freelance choreographer, Cortez has created dances for: American Ballet Theatre (the Studio Company), the Williamstown Theater Festival and the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City.
From 2002-2008 he was Artistic Director of Verb Ballets in Cleveland, Ohio. He took a regional Ohio dance troupe to national recognition by conceiving then executing his focused artistic mission.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS helps men, women and children across the country and across the street receive lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling and emergency financial assistance.
We are one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has raised more than $285 million for essential services for people with HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington DC.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the major supporter of essential social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic. We also award annual grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations nationwide.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS began as two separate organizations.
Equity Fights AIDS was founded in October 1987 by the Council of Actors’ Equity Association. Money raised through the efforts of Equity theatre companies across the country was specifically earmarked for The Actors Fund’s HIV/AIDS Initiative.
Broadway Cares was founded in February 1988 by members of The Producers’ Group. Money raised was awarded to AIDS service organizations nationwide, including Equity Fights AIDS.
In May 1992, Equity Fights AIDS and Broadway Cares merged to become Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The Board of Trustees of this newly established not-for-profit fundraising organization assumed the missions of the previously separate organizations.
In 1995 DRA started holding a series of dance benefits called “Dancers from the Heart.” Using dancers from several companies these were held in Saratoga Springs, SUNY Purchase, Martha’s Vineyard, Washington DC, and the Pines. Hernando had been frequenting the Pines and suggested doing a benefit there. The Pines performances began as the result of collaboration with volunteer and co producer Jack Schlegel. The first event raised $7,939.00. Always held at a bay front home with a stage on the Great South Bay it continues to be one of the highlights of the Fire Island season.
In that same year Hernando’s friend, and fellow dancer Denise Hurlin joined him at Broadway Cares staff. Denise has led DRA’s fundraising growth by not only expanding the FI Dance Festival, but by adding other events and initiatives.
Celebrity hosts have included Whoopi Goldberg, Bebe Neuwirth, Bruce Vilanch, Jerry Mitchell, Titus Burgess, and more.
Photographer Bill Cunningham’s artistry over 20 years captured the visual splendor and importance of #FI Dance Festival and he shared it with the world in the New York Times. Always dressed in his utilitarian blue worker’s jacket and khaki pants, he simultaneously blended into the dance festival crowd and stood out as a master at work. He photographed the festival regularly, each time focusing his unique artistic eye on the beauty of dance, finding the nuance and brilliance in the movement.Bill Cunningham’s artistry over 20 years captured the visual splendor and importance of #FIDance Festival and he shared it with the world.
Always dressed in his utilitarian blue worker’s jacket and khaki pants, he simultaneously blended into the dance festival crowd and stood out as a master at work. He photographed the festival regularly, each time focusing his unique artistic eye on the beauty of dance, finding the nuance and brilliance in the movement.
The tradition and history continues with Hernando Cortez and Denise Roberts Hurlin…