The Future Of Dance: Just Bumpy, or Bleakest Future Ever?

Here at the Festival Blog, we push Philly arts hard. But when we speak with many artists—especially dancers and choreographers, it seems—money always comes up. I’d bet we spend about a quarter of the time interviewing artists discussing how they fund their projects. But the landscape is challenging. Just a couple weeks ago, when I spoke with Bethany Formica, she told me that finding funding for dance, and particularly for individual grants and projects, has become markedly more difficult in the past couple years.

So this article from First Things (I know, weird, eh?) seems especially timely. Using Philadelphia-area native Lauren Zaleta (pictured here), who’s training at the Joffrey Ballet School, as a window into the dance world, writer and former dancer Sara Hamdan roots around in the challenges facing the dance world. It’s frank, and a little harrowing. Hamdan writes:

“American dance culture isn’t just struggling. To some observers, its diagnosis seems to be especially grim, perhaps even terminal: Dance is a victim of inherent weaknesses made yet more dire by the profession’s financial woes. Mounting deficits, shrinking audiences, and less critical support have combined to cause an entire art form to fear its fate in ways that other performing arts do not.

“Already less popular than other cultural offerings, even on a good day, dance relies far more heavily on audience support than does its competition. A dance aficionado can’t download a performance on an iPod and enjoy it in the car during a long drive. Dance demands a different kind of interaction with an audience; it takes more effort and concentration—and money—for a dance devotee to end up in a theater or concert hall with a group of dancers and watch them sweat, listen to their breathing, and marvel at the command they have over their bodies. Dance is an all-or-nothing proposition for its audience, and this may end up being a principal reason for its demise.

“Unfortunately, it’s not just the worst possible time in dance history for audiences. It is, simply put, the bleakest it has been for the dance industry itself in nearly a century.”

Yikes. (Still, it’s a great feature and very much worth a read.) Dance is a huge part of what we do at Live Arts and Philly Fringe, and on good days, I feel optimistic, and quite excited about the future of dance here. But professional careers—making your living from dance—do seem increasingly hard to come by.

What do you think? Is dance in Philly endangered? Do young dancers and choreographers have a shot at not just an artistic career, but a professional one? Please feel invited to discuss in the comments, or if you want to share longer thoughts, email me responses for publication at nicholas[at]pafringe[dot]com.

–Nicholas Gilewicz