Madison Young is all concentration and smooth moves as she follows the direction of dance teacher Andrew Faulkner. The class is Hip Hop Boot Camp. As the instructor cranks up the electronic dance tune “Gold,” the Marysville Pilchuck High School sophomore follows his words and actions.
“Step, step, arms over the top, cross it low,” the 33-year-old Faulkner tells his students at Northwest Dance & Acro in Arlington. “You’re gripping a rose out of the sky.”
That scene in the Smokey Point dance studio Thursday night was a long way from a rock at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park. The beach near Kalaloch is where Madison, now 16, was photographed — in a mid-air dance jump — during the summer of 2016.
“I was in a hip-hop pose, wearing leggings and a jacket. It was very, very cold,” said Madison, who has studied jazz, ballet and other dance styles since age 3. “For the picture in the book, I was standing on a very slippery rock with barnacles all over it. He had me jump in different ways.”
“Dance Across the USA” features 163 dancers in gorgeous locales, mostly national parks. Givens’ project took him on a 22,264-mile driving trip, plus two plane rides, to all 50 states. His journey, which began in Florida’s Biscayne National Park, was completed in just 90 days.
The book stunningly pairs dissimilar forms of beauty: the graceful power of dance and the marvels of the natural world.
Givens, 44, is based in Sunrise, Florida, near Miami. His business, EPS Photography (Entertainment Photography Specialists), is focused on dance, theatrical, circus and other entertainment pictures. Once a performer who danced in touring productions, he later worked in theater technology.
As an aerial rigger, he toured Europe with Cirque du Soleil. And from 2003 to 2005, Givens was master carpenter for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” He said it was Winfrey who suggested he take up photography to build a portfolio. “Pictures of people are more interesting” than photos of sets and scenery, he said.
And pictures of people dancing, a world he knew from performing, are more interesting still. Combining dance with nature was an idea that grew from his performance background, a love of the outdoors, and a desire to see the country.
The photographer recruited dancers through social media. “About 3,000 dancers applied. I chose 174 to actually photograph, and there are 163 in the book,” Givens said.
It was Shanna Young, Madison’s mother, who saw Givens’ post on Facebook. They were asked to provide a video of Madison dancing. Young said her daughter’s safety was always top of mind.
Once she had spoken with Givens, Young felt reassured that there was nothing improper about his effort to find dancers of all ages and types. “I was with her every step of the way,” said the teen’s mom, who spent two days on the Olympic Peninsula as Givens photographed Madison and five other dancers.
Givens knew people might be wary. “You’re asking somebody you don’t know to meet me in some parking lot,” he said. “I was very upfront. I told them I want parents there, and I want people to bring other people.”
The dancers later shared their experiences on Facebook.
“There was never a hint of impropriety,” Givens said. There were, though, a few mishaps.
“We got lost in Tennessee,” Givens said. It was in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. “The sign for the trailhead was in the wrong place. Instead of a one-hour loop we were out there nine hours,” he said.
In South Dakota, when he looked into his camera the dancer had disappeared. “She had slid down 40 feet on the back side of where she was standing,” he said. He used a rope to rescue the woman from soft sand.
Through the website crowdrise, Givens raised more than $43,000 for his project. For each book sold, he said he plans to donate $1 to the National Endowment for the Arts and another dollar to a national park.
Givens made the trip alone, in a van he calls the “Mighty Buford,” except for stops in Alaska and New York. In those places, he met his wife, Leigh-Ann Givens, a former dancer now working for Celebrity Cruises as senior manager of production operations. “Without her help and tolerance, none of it would have happened,” Givens said.
Madison, who plans to soon teach some dance classes, received a copy of the book, a large print of her published photo, a “Dance Across the USA” t-shirt, and memories of two special days in Olympic National Park. Next July, she hopes to compete in a national Thunderstruck Dance Competition in Las Vegas.
Givens hopes his book encourages dancers, and spurs people to visit national parks. There’s more to it, though. “The whole idea with the project is celebrating our differences and our similarities,” he said.
“Whether you like Trump or Hillary, dogs or cats, toilet paper over or under, it makes no difference. In small-town Kansas, middle-of-nowhere Washington or New York City, everybody dances — but in different ways,” Givens said. “It’s a celebration of everybody.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Dance Across the USA,” by Jonathan Givens, features more than 160 dancers photographed in national parks and other spectacular places. Givens traveled to all 50 states during his 90-day journey. The book ($39.95) is available from Amazon or at: www.danceatusa.com/bookstore/
Learn about the project at: www.danceatusa.com/