Ninety days, 50 states, 163 dancers, 22,160 photos.
Former Colorado Springs resident Jonathan Givens, armed with Canon cameras and flashes, piled into "The Mighty Buford," his Nissan NV 1500, during the summer of 2016 and embarked on a mission: Photograph dancers in awe-inspiring poses at national parks, monuments or other well-known settings in each state over the course of three months.
The professional photographer's new book, "Dance Across the USA," was released in December and features photos of dancers ages 5 to 61 in masterful poses in the great outdoors, including Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Givens, a 1991 Doherty High School graduate, will be in town Sunday for a book signing at Barnes & Noble. His tome's available online at danceatusa.com, Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
"Each location was amazing," Givens said from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "We'd get there, and you're in beautiful places, sometimes in people's backyards where they never even go. Not only am I in a beautiful place, but I'm doing something I adore with talented people."
The idea was born one night when Givens saw a Facebook post by somebody who'd come up with a computer algorithm detailing the most efficient route to travel to all 48 contiguous states. He wondered what sort of project would allow him to take such a trip. Six months later, he was on the road.
When it came to deciding which locations would represent each state, Givens often opted for his favorites, including one where he grew up.
"I love Garden of the Gods," he said. "I spent a lot of time there. It was sort of a no-brainer for that one. Other places, it was getting on Google. Not every state has a national park, so we had to go to a national forest or monument. Some was logistics."
Givens covered 22,264 miles on the ground and 8,436 miles in the sky to take his project to Hilo, Hawaii, and Anchorage, Alaska.
About 3,000 dancers across the country and from all styles of dance, such as contemporary, ballet, Polynesian and Native American, applied to participate. Givens selected those who not only loved dance, but also had a passion for public spaces. Two Springs dancers represented Colorado: Gabriella Rae of Revolution Dance Academy and Brianna Micheletti of Barbara Ellis Studio of Dance.
"Aside from it being physically impressive what they can do, it's an art form I have a passion for," Givens said. "It's a very useful career path for people. It edifies and inspires people. It's a great way to make a living."
Givens knows of what he speaks. After high school, he etched out a career as a professional actor, doing 34 national tours as a performer or technician. From 2003 to 2006, he was master carpenter for the Oprah Winfrey show and then took a turn working for Cirque du Soleil.
Oprah herself persuaded Givens to pick up his first camera. She told him his carpentry works were so beautiful that he needed to take photos of them for a portfolio. What started as a hobby turned into a professional pursuit.
"I learned that shooting scenery was boring, but I had a real passion for photographing dancers," he said. "It dawned on me as I was touring with Cirque and different shows - I should be shooting this. And that's what really clicked."