Members of the dance education community have chosen to treat the recession the way they would a tricky piece of choreography: as an opportunity for creative problem solving. “I think it’s important to look at how we can keep shining a light on what’s best for the students and offering the best possible work, given the restrictions,” says Cathryn Williams, director of strategic alliances at New York City’s Lincoln Center Institute, which facilitates arts education in public schools. “In a way, it’s a wonderful creative problem to have.”
Many schools and organizations say interest and participation have remained steady, and some are even experiencing growth. LCI, for instance, is adding new sites this year for its National Educator Workshop, one in Albany and one in Chicago.
In the greater Houston area, teachers report that while overall enrollment is down, there are pockets of good news. Dana Loving-Sparks, owner and artistic director of In-Step Dance and Performing Arts Center, notes that class attendance is up in hip hop, ballroom and musical theater. Michelle Smith, executive director of Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, reports that all enrollment is up and that her children’s classes closed with waiting lists. Others report that they are reaching out to recently unemployed parents to work out arrangements to keep their children in dance. “I think parents want to keep their children involved as much as they can,” says Lori Pergament, artistic director of the Greater York Dance Nonprofit Center for Dance Education in York, Pennsylvania.
“For the most part, people are still very hopeful and positive. In many cases they’re looking at the economic challenges as opportunities to rethink the way they’re doing things,” says Barbara Shepherd, director of national partnerships at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. For instance, LCI reduced the amount of time its teaching artists spend in schools and is focusing on helping classroom teachers learn to carry out the Institute’s methodology on their own. San Francisco Ballet opted for a similar solution, choosing to shorten the length of its in-school residencies rather than lose any of the 36 public schools it currently works with.
In Columbia, South Carolina, Anne Richardson, dance program director at Palmetto Center for the Arts, a fine arts magnet school, is cutting back on performance costs in a unique way. “Instead of doing a lavish production, we’ll be simple,” she says. In preparation for the next production, based on West Side Story, the students studied Romeo and Juliet and researched the history of Puerto Rican immigrants. “I’m really focusing on the research component,” she explains. “We’re having our kids do podcasts, which we’ll insert between the numbers to set them up. This costs us nothing.”
In Minneapolis, the nonprofit school Young Dance found a way to share programming paid for by another entity—in this case MacPhail Center for Music, which benefits from access to additional collaborators at no cost.
The recession has taught dance educators that they can do more with less. “Rather than cowering down and being fearful, we’re all just giving more of our time,” says Pergament. “We’re more enthralled with our art than ever before, I guess because we have to be.”
With additional reporting by Nancy Wozny
Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet