Can Dance Flourish in a Non-Dance Town?

March 2, 2015

Not every city has a thriving dance scene. But a dance community doesn’t have to be large or action-packed to feel like a community. This I learned in San Antonio last Thursday.

San Antonio is not New York City or San Francisco. It’s not Houston or Dallas. But it’s a lively city with more than The Alamo. Among its assets are a few good museums, the beautiful Tobin Theatre, an array of art galleries and a big Mexican population.

And it’s got a bunch of strong women who are united in wanting to bring more dance to their city. Last week some of them came to my book reading, which was sponsored by the San Antonio Dance Umbrella collective. With the 20 or so people there, we got into a conversation about what makes a dance community. I’m not an expert in this area (in NYC we are already overrun with dance), but I could feel the desire in the room.

At right:, the company of Amber Ortega-Perez, in
Embrace. Photo by Steven DaLuz.

 These accomplished women bring international-level dance to their city. Barbara Phillips has organized the Third Coast Tap Festival every summer for 18 years (the next one is July 15–19), importing the likes of Dianne Walker and Derek K. Grant. Choreographer Amber Ortega-Perez, who states on her website that her mission is to “make modern dance an everyday occurrence in San Antonio,” offers Gaga classes, among other things. Catalina Garza is co-director of Quenedit Ballet School, which has classes in ballet, jazz, modern, flamenco and hip-hop. Seme Jatib, the dancer/choreographer and teacher who organized my reading, has performed throughout Central and South America and created dances for the internet. And Paige Berry has a blooming musical theater career while also heading Trilogy Dance Center.

 The San Antonio Dance Umbrella, which started about 20 years ago to promote dance education, has instituted a monthly Work in Progress session in which they use Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process to critique the pieces shown. SADU also sponsors flamenco classes, folk dance groups, classes in senior centers and events like my book reading.

 Proyectos en Movimiento of Seme Jatib in Pintame el Alma. Photography by Kevin Hamrick.

 I was happy to be a catalyst for these dancers, choreographers, and teachers to further network with each other. I would define the city’s dance community as people who are serious about their art while also respecting each other’s genres. It warms my dancer’s heart to see this, even on a small scale. The passion to make it happen is never small.

I enjoy getting out of New York and discovering different dance regions. I’ve written about Seattle, Sarasota, and two cities in California. I’ve found—no surprise—that wherever people are, there is dance. A community can be built by a few strong individuals whose passion is the soil for the seeds of dance to grow.