Yes, It *Is* Possible to Have a Dance Career Outside a Big City
Rock Island, Illinois, is a small city about three hours from Chicago and an hour from Iowa City. It is also home to Ballet Quad Cities. "I moved here with an open mind," says Courtney Lyon, who began as a dancer with the company and now serves as artistic director. While she considered moving to a bigger city, Lyon found that Rock Island met her needs: a livable atmosphere, affordable rent, a nice artistic community with a lot of theater (though not much dance) and galleries. "The company was young and the work felt significant, and as a dancer, I felt less like a cog in a wheel." Almost two decades later, she and the company continue to thrive in this pocket of the Midwest.
Pursuing a career outside of a dance hub might seem like a risk. But being the only dance show in town can mean artistic freedom and even a more dedicated audience. However, the challenges include building that audience from the ground up.
Courtney Lyon and Ballet Quad Cities thrive in Rock Island, Illinois.
Andy Abeyta, Courtesy Ballet Quad Cities
When Anindita Neogy Anaam arrived in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, in 2015, she found not only a void of classical Indian dance—and her form, kathak, in particular—but a void of art in general. So she began dancing wherever she could: at recreation centers, primary schools, colleges and festivals.
Trey McIntyre found slightly more dance but a similar challenge when he started Trey McIntyre Project in Boise, Idaho, in 2005. "Moving to an underserved community was appealing to me, but we had to let go of expectations of how a company is supposed to exist and let the needs of who was there influence our process," he says.
Limitations as Opportunity
As Anaam got to know people in her area, she found that the typical music and ornate costumes of kathak threw them off. She began experimenting with fusion music, without lyrics, and simpler costuming. The result is a hybrid that is entirely her own. "In India or a large city, I wouldn't have to compromise," says Anaam, "but here I have been pushed to do something different."
Lyon has also found a career trajectory that may not have been available to her in New York City. Moving from dancer to artistic director in a relatively short span of time, Lyon has been able to make work on the company and program young choreographers she admires. "There has been freedom to push my boundaries because there are fewer preconceived notions here," she says. To stay connected to the larger dance world, she is active online and takes trips to Chicago whenever she can.
Getting dancers to more remote locations can be a challenge. Lyon is mindful of the time and money it takes to get to Rock Island to audition, and she often interviews dancers over the phone ahead of time to streamline the process. For McIntyre, finding dancers "was a litmus test for a sense of adventure," he says. "I was able to find the people who were open to something different."
Trey McIntyre Project's final performance
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow
While McIntyre ultimately closed TMP in 2014, it has continued to open doors in the Boise community: Two former TMP dancers are now the artistic director and rehearsal director of Ballet Idaho, and another directs Boise's new contemporary troupe LED.
Anaam hopes to eventually open a school so she can one day have other dancers fluent in her vocabulary. "I am helping to combat biases and narrow-minded views," she says. "In turn, I am creating a brand-new audience for my art."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.