In 1965, the federal government authorized the National Endowment for the Arts; hard on its heels came a dance boom that launched hundreds of troupes across the country, fueled college dance programs, and helped raise the caliber of performance as well as choreography. For two decades American dance was hot, pulling audiences to theaters and to revolutionary television broadcasts.
The center of all this activity was New York City, where cheap live-work loft spaces let artists experiment around the clock, and a corps of educated fans and diligent journalists gave them the attention they craved.
In the ’80s the situation began to crumble. After Reagan won the White House, money for the arts grew scarce. The NEA’s Dance Touring Program, which channeled performances into communities large and small (and helped pay the salaries of hundreds of New York dancers), was discontinued. AIDS slammed the dance world especially hard.
The resurgence of the city’s economy may have slammed it harder. In 2001, Downtown dance is in disarray. The dotcom boom made off with studio spaces, hardening of political arteries has dried up even more funding, and the audience that grew up with the boom is busy putting kids through college, surfing the Internet, going to basketball games and the movies. Last year, Dance Magazine decamped for Oakland, citing high rents here as a major reason for its move. A new generation must work double timeto stay afloat, and few have the resources to keep producing—or even attending—challenging shows.
A startling recent development saw American Ballet Theatre staffer Elena Gordon, fired 17 days shy of her 25th anniversary with the company, filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the New York State Division of Human Rights, charging that she was let go because she is not a young gay man. Dozens of employees have left the troupe since the current executive director took over, but Gordon, who worked in the marketing department, is the first to go public with her problem.
Listen as nine dance-world veterans share their frustrations. But first, here are two of mine: idiots who don’t silence their cell phones at performances, and innumerable press releases that spell artists’ names wrong.
by Homer Avila
“I write at the 11th hour prior to the amputation of my right leg…. But it should not have come to this.”
“Space and time to create and safe places to take risks are not expendable; they are not ‘extras’ we can negotiate away.”
Where Are the Women?
by Jodi Liss
” ‘Of the choreographers you present, how many are male and how many are female?’ “
“Why are artists of this generation—myself included—so dispassionate? Modern dance was a rebel force.”
Dance Without Me
“What’s eating the dance world? It’s doing a pretty good job of eating itself, thank you.”
The Money Trap
“In the financially strapped, self-censoring world of dance now, the trust-fund artist has the best shot at success.”
A Dance Critic’s Lament
by Mindy Aloff
Dance is “a mode of speech. It’s a way to speak to a partner. For a few, it’s a way to speak to God.”
“Art is viewed as ‘a special ivory-tower thing, yet the artists are not treated as if they were very special.’ “
“It’s not my job to look at the economics of [universal coverage], but it is my job to say,‘Keep thinking about this!’ “
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 24, 2001