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Today, millions of people enjoy commercial dance by tuning in regularly to watch television shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars. So, why is it that a cultured, well-educated metropolis like North Texas seems unable and largely unwilling to sustain a local ballet company (or two), or any number of local dance performance troupes?

Why Doesn’t Dallas Support Dance?

Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. It’s the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy.” –Jaques D’Amboise

Dance is a part of the lives of so many — it is a primal experience in every culture through every time period — from rain dances and royal balls to wedding dances and clubbing until five in the morning. The most human of art forms, dance doesn’t need anything outside of the body to transmit deep emotion and communicate honestly. And even when dance is not participatory, it has long been a popular spectator sport. Today, millions of people enjoy commercial dance by tuning in regularly to watch television shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars. So, why is it that a cultured, well-educated metropolis like North Texas seems unable and largely unwilling to sustain a local ballet company (or two), or any number of local dance performance troupes?

Almost 15 years ago Ballet Dallas, the only professional ballet company in the city, closed its doors and vacated its massive downtown city-view space. Fort Worth Ballet recognized this closure as an opportunity to expand their existing audience base, sell more tickets, and target new patrons for donations by simply repeating some of their performances in Dallas. In 1994 they officially became known as Fort Worth Dallas Ballet. When that failed to produce an increase in funding from the citizens of Dallas, they once again changed their name, this time to Texas Ballet Theater.

In 2009, Texas Ballet Theater became the resident ballet company of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, positioning itself with the opening of the new center as the region’s premiere dance troupe. But the Texas Ballet Theater’s recent history shows that keeping a large-scale professional dance company in the area has been a struggle. In the summer of 2009, Texas Ballet Theater came very close to closing its doors, and since then the company has performed without an orchestra at its performances. So while the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center last fall gave the Dallas arts profile a significant jolt, the question remains: Is the Dallas performing arts scene finally stable enough for substantial dance companies to take root and thrive?

The proliferation of a diverse offering of dance companies in the area seems to suggest that it is. Over the years small dance companies, producing fairly professional and culturally varied works have sprouted up in most of the surrounding area. These dance companies can be divided into four distinct categories: pre-professional ballet, college dance, professional ballet, and professional contemporary/modern dance companies. Local ballet schools have created a litany of not-for-profit performing companies that cater to students ages 12-18. Amongst those are; The Tuzer Ballet of Richardson, Chamberlin Ballet of Plano, Carrolton’s Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Dallas Repertoire Ballet in Allen, Ballet Frontier of Fort Worth and Dallas Metropolitan Ballet in Highland Park. Most local universities also have very active performing companies that showcase all genres of dance. The two significant professional dance companies with budgets exceeding $1 million a year are Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theater. Mid-sized modern dance companies are considerably smaller in number. Among them are Muscle Memory Dance Theater, Contemporary Dance Fort Worth, Elledanceworks and Dekadance. Charles Santos and the TITAS organization are also working relentlessly to broaden modern dance offerings by bringing new and culturally stimulating companies from around the world to perform in Dallas. They have done a remarkable job exposing Dallas audiences to the avant-garde elements of dance, nudging them towards the unfamiliar.

While there is clearly a tremendous amount of growth in the local dance scene, the principal weakness for all dance companies is funding. Dallas choreographer Bruce Woods ran a high caliber, extraordinary modern dance company for several years. His company played to sold out houses at Bass Hall time and time again. But all it took was one major financier to pull their support, and the Bruce Woods company could no longer meet their financial obligations, leaving them no choice but to fold.

The closing of Bruce Woods and Ballet Dallas are a sad reflection of the struggles faced by every dance company today. Their fate, however, does not need to be the norm. What we need to do as advocates of this art form is tap into this new propensity towards dance and find ways to get these folks in the seats at live concerts, because if we don’t, we will remain one of the largest metro areas in the United States that continues loosing professional dance companies to financial ruin. But a different question faces the general public: “why not dance?” Supporting dance companies is a natural extension of our innate desire to dance and our obsession with watching dance on television. That support starts when that letter arrives in the mail asking you personally to support one of our local dance organizations. When it does, take a moment and really think about it. We have wonderful and diverse cultural opportunities in North Texas, and local dance companies require attendance, donations, and yes — lip service. Try attending a performance. I bet you’ll find the experience as natural as feeling your pulse.

Photo: Mark Cuban performing on Dancing With The Stars

16 comments on “Why Doesn’t Dallas Support Dance?

  1. yes let us support the arts. We watch TV and applaud the dancers. We even applaud bad dancing but enjoy the spirit of dance, so why not support dance as a live art. Thank you Danna for trying to create awareness in Dallas

    PS WE need more support on the school level from educators and dance personal. We need to explore the seeds of awareness and why they are so lacking in in most arts.

  2. Right on — so true. Greater support is vitally needed for all size dance companies. We, patrons & concerned citizens, need to do more than buy tickets. I, too, join the writer and encourage you to take a “Stance for Dance. If not, I fear more dance organizations will fold. I’m particularly worried about the fate of the small & midsize dance organizations in our greater community. I urge all of us to do more for the greater good of our culture.

  3. Danna: You’ve overlooked the “stars” aspect of Dancing With the Stars. People watch that show to see famous people put in a position outside their comfort zone. They don’t watch it because they enjoy dance in general.

  4. Mr. Rogers, thank you for taking the time to comment.

    First they tried a show about stars living together in a mansion. (failure!) Then they tries one about stars wrestling each other in the arena. (failure!) The show that has staying power is about stars “dancing.” It seems to me, a bit disingenuous to suggest that a propensity towards dancing has nothing to do with the success of shows like Dancing With The Stars. Additionally, your argument does not apply to So You Think You Can Dance.

    What say you?

  5. Ms Danna,
    I have had similar questions and conversations regarding why Dallas does not have its own company. Houston and Austin are both flourishing with companise in many styles, and also, with such an affluent cities in the Dallas metroplex, why have these companies continued to fold?
    As a side note, I agree with your above comment. I believe it is safe to say that it is mostly about the dancing. I couldn’t care less if it was Pamela Anderson or someone I haven’t seen in tabloids, and I think a lot of others see it the same way. Why has So You Think You Can Dance hit number one? There are very few people on that show that are famous or wealthy. I hope you don’t mind that I quote you. “Dance is a part of the lives of so many — it is a primal experience in every culture through every time period.” Dance has always been something anyone can relate to. It involves our everyday emotions. It is a little hard to relate to five wealthy plastic people living in a mansion.

  6. It is a”puzzlement” that there are not more people in your area that would, with loyalty and pride, enjoy keeping a professional company alive…. Thanks for your article and spirit!

    You also have me concerned about the smaller companies that provide wholesome, multitextured dance experiences for developing young people. Regardless of the size or level of the company, audiences can still appreciate these dancers’ mastery of skills and “teamwork”. These disciplines, along with artistic expression, provide a tremendous contribution to their early “life” education!

  7. This is great! Let’s keep the conversation going. What can the dance community itself do to support each other? Could they fill the seats with $5 rush tickets for participating dance ensembles? What other innovative tactics can be deployed to raise attendence at concerts and thereby lesson the dependency on fundraising?

    By the way, Michelle Brown, you can call me Danna. :)

  8. Danna,

    I want to recognize Texas Dance Theatre, run by the very brave Wil McKnight…in only a few short years, this troupe has attracted well-respected choreographers as Bruce Wood, Chung-Lin Tseng, and Mel Tomlinson; as well as maintaining a staff of talented, hard-working, creative performers.

    After seeing the quick development of Texas Dance Theatre on YouTube (and reading the many positive reviews in the local press), I approached Mr. McKnight last August with a proposal for a new ballet. Through the months of what might have been a challenging long-distance creation process, I found nothing but an encouraging environment for the new work. (Even world-renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem assisted the group, allowing our use of their dancers and studio space.)

    The 2009 – 2010 “Season of Choreographers” Finale will include the premiere of the final product, entitled “Adam and Eve and God: a dance for two”. (Friday, April 30th at the Scott Theatre in Fort Worth) Early ticket sales have been very encouraging.

    I can only hope that the theatre community and dance enthusiasts alike will be as supportive as Mr. McKnight has been, and I hope that the greater dance community will follow the lead of this brave new group!

    Thank you for bringing the importance of the arts to the attention of us all.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Sean Panzarino

  9. Thank you, Danna, for addressing this issue. FYI, however, the Ballet Ensemble of Texas is located in Coppell. I am about to go in front of Coppell’s City Council to ask for next year’s funding and if there’s any way to correct this it would be great. If not, again, thanks for writing this plea for support for dance in our area!

  10. Dear Ms. Slagle,
    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my op-ed addressing the state of dance locally. I do apoplogize for the oversite and recognize Ballet Ensemble of Texas is indeed located in Coppell. I sincerely hope your funding request is successful. As an important part of our North Texas dance community, I invite you to continue to visit FrontRow at dmagazine.com, read our reviews and post your comments!

    Respectfully,
    Danna Reubin

  11. I am from Dallas, and have grown up dancing here my whole life, attended SMU for dance, performed with Contemporary Ballet Dallas for 7 seasons and am now the school director for School of Contemporary Ballet Dallas, as well as assistant artistic director with the company. Contemporary Ballet Dallas has been around for almost 10 years. The state of Dallas Dance has always been disappointing. My entire life growing up, I never felt like there was a company in Dallas to look up too, to aspire to be. That is wrong in such a beautiful and metropolitan city. Most of the wonderful dancers that I grew up with moved elsewhere, as there were no options here in Dallas. The growth for Dallas dance has been improving over the last 20 years, but the pace is a snail pace, and as a dancer, teacher, and choreogrpaher, it is overwhelmingly disappointing. I am glad to see that over the last 10 years musical theatre, modern and contemporary ballet have come more into the forefront in Dallas, I know that opens options for dancers. However, I am not sure why people in Dallas do not see the value in supporting dance. It is the same as supporting the symphony, the opera, the theatre. I believe that the public needs to be more educated about dancing. It would help if we had good dance reviews put out there to encourage them to attend shows, and if the media would support dance more here in Dallas by writing awareness articles like this one.
    thank you for writing about dance! SUPPORT DANCE!
    Lindsay DiGiuseppe Bowman

  12. Lindsay,
    Thank you! FrontRow is commited to bringing a daily dose of educated critical analysis of all performing arts including dance to our readers. In the 6 weeks since I joined the FrontRow family of critics we have posted reviews of Texas Ballet Theater at the Winspear, Dallas Black Dance Theater at the Scott, and next Friday morning lookout for my review of Muscle Memory Dance Theater performing at the Hub. Newspapers have eliminated most of their arts critics, so let us be your source for reviews and editorials like this one!
    -Danna Reubin

  13. “……working relentlessly to broaden modern dance offerings by bringing new and culturally stimulating companies from around the world to perform in Dallas. They have done a remarkable job exposing Dallas audiences to the avant-garde elements of dance, nudging them towards the unfamiliar”. Try to reconcile the above statement with the fact that the Texas education agency recently voted to remove any reference to Hip-hop from the school curriculum. Tessa is right. WE need more support on the school level from educators. We need to end the practice of politicizing our educational standards.

  14. Chuck,
    This is not my field of expertise, but you make a good point. Let’s take it a step further. I was a product of K-12 public school system that included an arts curriculum and was not a specialized arts school like Booker T. Washington. (Which is an amazing school) Today, most private schools in North Texas offer a variety of dance classes to their students because the government does not dictate their offerings. The disintegration of arts education in the school system is mostly limited to public schools.

    A well-rounded k-12 education should include:
    •Language Arts/English
    •Math
    •Science
    •History
    •Art, Visual or Performing

    Perhaps it is time to consider a voucher program in our area. (The city takes funding for your child out of the zoned school and gives parents a voucher equivalent to what the ISD currently spends, ~$8322 per child. Parents then enroll in a private school of their choosing and use the voucher to pay for tuition.) On top of the voucher, many private schools have scholarship programs to assist lower income families. If the system doesn’t work for you, work the system!
    Those are my thoughts.
    Respectfully,
    Danna Reubin

  15. Thank you Danna for an excellent article. Thank you to others who have taken your time to comment on the state of dance in the North Texas Community. I grew up in Richardson and attended the School of American Ballet beginning at the age of 12 as a Ford Foundation student. That being shared because the VAST difference of the awareness and respect for ballet (or dance) was staggering to me. Once I had the experience of being in New York City during the late 60’s and early 70’s, I realized ballet was something to be respected and appreciated. Being part of the New York Dance scene, as a student of ballet, I thrived with the awareness that dance was enjoyed by a cross section of the public, from furs and jewels to those who appeared to have less financial means. Locally, I have had my own school of ballet since 1977 and am a director for a non profit since 1984. I support the need to help educate our future audience to think of the arts, esp dance, like they do sports, movies, dinner, bowling…any other activity they would want to enjoy during time away from work, family or simply as a fun night out. As a Texas native, I am not certain what the difference is with the Dallas cultural dance audience base. I agree, Houston, Fort Worth and Austin all have thriving dance communities and I look forward to Dallas/North Texas also supporting its dance companies and artists. I applaud TITAS, DBDT and TBT for their commitment to their mission. The smaller dance community needs the success of these professional dance organizations to be successful. Agree that positive (but honest) dance reviews will also aid in getting people to enjoy dance other than what they see on TV or U Tube. Continued best for our dance community, esp our students and the professionals.

  16. I am glad that there have been more responses. I do think that something needs to be done to help bring dance back into the spotlight in Dallas, whether its putting together a better dance program in the schools, or the voucher system that Danna suggested. I think one main thing that could be done is forming these “drill teams” into teaching a more classical style of jazz, and maybe adding some modern and ballet fundamentals so that the girls that come out will have a stronger foundation of dance. I don’t want to offend any drill team directors, but I think that the girls need to be able to know a bit more about the world they are involved in and be able to appreciate it.