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