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Our Wish List for the Next Decade of Dance

There are lots of gift guides floating around the internet this time of year. But the end of the decade has us thinking about more than presents.

As much as the dance world has evolved over the past 10 years, there's still a lot of work to do. So we started pondering: If we could ask Santa for our wildest wishes, what would we want to him to bring us in the '20s?

1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

All dancers are asking is for a little respect—from pop culture, from the mainstream media, even from their own directors. Can we please make the '20s the decade that everyone stops belittling dancers?

Enough with celebrities and models faking their way through a pair a pointe shoes. Enough with equating dancing to "being sissy." Enough with treating dancers like disposable goods just because there are so many hopefuls out there vying for jobs.

How we can make this happen: By continuing to speak up. After Lara Spencer mocked Prince George this summer on "Good Morning America" for taking ballet, the reaction from the dance community was not only fast and furious, but effective. With so many voices all crying out together, it was one of those rare instances where it felt like we were really heard. Let's keep up the advocacy.

2. Access to a Full Dance Medicine Team

Sure, many major companies have a physical therapist on staff, which is great! But in a dream world, dancers would also have access to a psychologist in the studios to help with mental health and performance strategies. And a registered dietitian to help them meet their nutrition goals. Maybe even a chiropractor, an acupuncturist and a Gyrotonic studio. Basically, all the resources that major sports teams take for granted. And as long as we're dreaming, these wouldn't just be reserved for company dancers, but available to freelancers, too.

How we can make this happen: Admittedly, access to medical professionals does not come cheap. But the good news is that the dance medicine field is growing, as more and more students with serious dance backgrounds pursue various specialties. And most of these experts are incredibly devoted to helping the field they love.

That means there are more resources available than ever before—and likely more than what most of the field is currently taking advantage of. Over the next decade, we'd love to see more strategic partnerships between dance organizations and hospitals or clinics, and more easily accessible information about what's offered in local communities.

3. Another Zero (or Two) at the End of Dancers' Paychecks

Of course, dancers don't go into this field for the money. But they still have to eat and pay their rent. If only Santa could somehow climb down the chimney with livable wages for every dancer who's ever been offered to perform "in exchange for exposure."

How we can make this happen: We need to figure out how to better convince the wider world of the value of dance. What if college dance majors were taught how to navigate our capitalist system more like entrepreneurs? What if grads had the same confidence to ask for money as tech start-ups?

4. No More Preying On Dancers

Unfortunately, the #MeToo movement is all too real in the dance world. The stories that have come to light over the past couple of years—of billionaires targeting dancers, teachers abusing students and even celebrated company members taking advantage of their colleagues—have been devastating. It's time for sexual predators to stop preying on dancers (or anyone else, for that matter).

How we can make this happen: By holding offenders accountable so they know they won't be able to get away with their actions. And by making dancers' safety the highest priority, which starts with being sure they can report any incidences of harassment without fear.

5. Proper Recognition

People, please stop stealing choreography. Choreographers, please give your dancers credit when they've been major contributors to your creative process. Relatives, please stop asking dancers when they're going to get a "real" job.

How we can make this happen: The root of all these problems goes back to the issue of respect. We need to change the perception that what dance artists do is just fun and easy, and not actual "work."

6. Affordable Auditions

We know it might sound a little crazy, but don't you think dancers should be able to apply to work without having to pay for it?

How we can make this happen: We know, we know. Budgets are limited. But if companies want to make sure they're not taking advantage of aspiring dancers, they're going to have to get used to considering recruitment expenses as a cost of doing business.

7. For All Dancers to Be Able to Dance

For too long, too many professional dance jobs have been limited to a privileged few: the white, the able-bodied, the slim-bodied and those with wealthy enough parents to afford the steep price of training. Slowly but surely, this is changing as casting becomes more inclusive than ever before and outreach efforts become more serious.

How we can make this happen: Let's keep up the momentum, and continue working to make sure everyone with passion and talent can find a place to share it. Keep on opening up dance's doors.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021