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Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Book Will Highlight the Arch — and St. Louis Dancers

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 8:42 AM

  • Photo by Jonathan Givens.
You already know that St. Louis has some gorgeous parks. And if you've had the sense to immerse yourself in the arts scene, you know our city has some amazingly talented dancers. But you rarely see these two worlds collide, much less do so in a way that gets national exposure. 

A new book called Dance Across the USA is about to change that — and benefit both national parks and arts education in the process. The book will showcase photos by Florida photographer Jonathan Givens, who is covering 25,000 miles to photograph dancers of all ages and styles in national parks, state parks and national historic locations in all 50 states. Tonight and tomorrow morning, he makes his St. Louis stop to photograph four Missouri dancers by — you guessed it — the Gateway Arch.

Those dancers, Sarah Svoboda, Lexi Lewis, Holly Andronicescu and Cora Tyler, were chosen out of 2,800 applicants to perform in the project. A St. Charles native, Svoboda explains that national park visitation has decreased over the years, largely due to technology, which motivated Givens to start his Dance Across the USA journey at the end of June. 

click to enlarge St. Louis  dancer Sarah Svoboda is one of four Missouri dancers to be featured in Dance Across the USA. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH SVOBODA.
  • Photo courtesy of Sarah Svoboda.
  • St. Louis dancer Sarah Svoboda is one of four Missouri dancers to be featured in Dance Across the USA.
"He wanted to capture the beauty of [national parks] and thought a good way to do it and help arts education as well is photographing dancers," says Svoboda, who has been dancing professionally with various companies for more than a decade.

The book will feature both male and female dancers, ranging in age and specialty. Everything from hip hop to ballet to lyrical to Indian dance will be represented.  

Givens started Dance Across the USA with $10,000 of his own money, and the rest is being funded with donations. The project has a Crowdrise campaign, which initially started with a $25,000 goal — but due to unexpectedly high licensing fees to photograph in the parks, the goal was increased to $40,000 a couple of weeks ago. Just under $14,000 has been raised so far. 

"All of us have kind of pulled together and done separate fundraisers, which is really cool," Svoboda says of the participating dancers. "One little girl...went around with cookies to local businesses and raised about $250 from there." Givens is also doing what he can to cut costs, including camping and sleeping in the van he travels in (which, of course, is decked out in Dance Across the USA decals). 

There are 25 states left to photograph in the project after Missouri; the last stop will be in Georgia at the end of September. Svoboda says Givens aims to have Dance Across the USA in bookstores by the end of the year. 

In the meantime, Svoboda is gearing up for the photo shoot on Washington Avenue tonight. She says she hopes these photos both increase awareness of the arts.

"When the economy starts to go, the arts start to go first and foremost. Typically, the arts start to go first. Theaters have gone down; shows haven't been produced as well and everything because of funding," Svoboda says.

She also hopes the book inspires people to put down technology and get outside.  

"I just hope that people see these photos and they're like, "Wow, that is absolutely beautiful. Maybe let's take a trip there. It's actually not that far away," and just be more open to all of it. I think that there's so much to offer... mentally, physically and emotionally for it and such a positive experience."

Proceeds from Dance Across the USA will go to the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Arts. To make a donation, follow Givens' journey and more details, visit

  • Photo by Jonathan Givens.
  • Photo by Jonathan Givens.
  • Photo by Jonathan Givens.
  • Photo by Jonathan Givens.

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