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Who attends Dance (in America at least): Expanding Dance Audiences

Chicago Tribune | The selling of dance:

Who attends dance performances?

The Chicago Community Trust, with help from Prince Charitable Trusts, funded research that focused on the local dance audience. The profiling data, gleaned from the phone surveys and focus groups with arts patrons, are to be used to help dance companies gain broader recognition and boost ticket sales. A look inside the demographics of “dance attenders,” or those who have attend-ed one or more professional dance performances in the last year.

71% are female (29 percent male).

56 years old, on average.

77% are white (12 percent Latino, 7 percent Black).

63% are urban dwellers (37 percent live in suburbs).

59% took dance classes growing up.

60% do artistic or creative activities themselves.

The number in there which really surprised me is that sixty per cent of those who attend dance, practiced at one point or another. It’s true that there are always a significant proportion of current professional dancers, dance teacher, ex-prima ballerinas as well as a legion of young people presently studying dance in most given audiences.

Many times I have taken culturally aware people (who go to at least one of museums, theatre or art cinema regularly) to dance performances. Usually mixed results. They are not often sold on making it a regular part of their lives. They think of it more as a curiosity than anything else.

Oftentimes, either the music is alienating. Most of the classical ballet canon, apart from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes pieces scored by Stravinsky or taken from Rimsky-Korsakov symphonies, are set to wretchedly banal scores, Swan Lake the notable exception. Even Giselle is maudlin. Or the modern stuff is just cacophonous. Or to sparse to be enjoyed (a single high hat being tinkled twice on the minute).

In modern dance in North America (and to a lesser extent in Europe) one suffers from the “anyone can be a dancer” train of thought, which considers that not personal beauty, stage charisma or dance talent should play a deciding factor in one’s ability to express oneself via movement in front of others. In classical dance in North America, audiences all suffer from the Auschwitz factor. The gentlemen who rule the roost have no great taste for the female figure. And so the female dancers are all young Adonis without rounded shoulder or bottoms or breast. Not a curve in sight.

These twig figures are hardly muses or and in many cases are barely recognisable as humans, let alone adult human females. Fortunately in Europe, the female dancers, depending on the company, are far more authentically proportioned. And thus more pleasing to the untrained eye. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that ballet enjoys wider favour among audiences in European cities.

So just how does one expand dance audiences? The eternal question.

In my particular case, take beautiful pictures of dance and publicise dance as widely as possible. Personal experience has shown this not to be enough.

More pleasing performers and consistently higher calibre music would help enormously. In any case, that strategy worked for Diaghilev.

But in general it would seem that answer would be to expand dance schools and train as many people as possible in Terpsichore’s art.

As a remedy for the general gracelessness of the world and problems of form, this would probably offer considerable both health and aesthetic benefits. Perhaps the Health Ministries should get involved.

A supple body and awareness of the body contribute mightily to a good intimate life. Perhaps the tabloids and the women’s magazines could join the effort.

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