Invitation to the Dance

Audience Development for the Next Century

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 1 (Spring 1998)

Mindy N. Levine

1997, 107 pages, Dance/USA, 1156 Fifteenth Street N.W., Suite 820, Washington D.C. 20005-1704, 202-833-1717, fax 212-833-2686, danceusa[at]artswire.org

Dance/USA forwarded a copy of Invitation to the Dance, a report from the National Task Force on Dance Audiences. The work of the Task Force was divided into three phases. In phase one, Dance/USA collected existing documents and studies, and interviewed dance professionals to identify what was known about dance audiences. In phase two, fifty people involved in all aspects of dance met in San Francisco to discuss preliminary research findings. In phase three, the report was published and distributed with the hope that readers "will draw inspiration from the summary of dialogue and research...and that the findings of the Task Force will generate...dialogue and action.”

Invitation to the Dance is an ambitious, densely-written report. Grantmakers may wish to read selectively, reviewing the center section first. This section presents excerpts from a slide presentation by Alan S. Brown of Audience Insight, Inc. that summarizes research findings. One might next read “Practical Challenges and Next Steps,” a summary of proposed areas for action, and then browse other sections as time and interest permit. The six challenges (listed below) are likely to ring true not just for dance companies, but for most arts organizations:

  • Enhance professional development opportunities for presenters, artists, and others.
  • Strengthen and expand audience research efforts.
  • Increase opportunities for sharing information about best practices.
  • Expand opportunities for locally-based research and development efforts.
  • Restructure work rules and business practices that impede audience building efforts.
  • Find ways to “pass the baton” to the next generation of leaders.

Among the key findings noted in Brown's presentation:

  • Although 6.98 percent of the adults surveyed have taken ballet lessons or classes at some point in their lives, only 16 percent of these adults attend ballet at least once annually.
  • Ballet attendance is distributed evenly across age groups, unlike other disciplines.
  • Dance participation rates vary significantly from city to city. For example, 26 percent of those surveyed in Seattle, Washington indicated some level of dance participation, whereas only 15 percent of those surveyed in Pittsburgh responded affirmatively.
  • Ballet and “other dance” audiences are more likely to attend classical music, opera, and theater than art museums or musicals.

The report's last two appendices document roundtable discussions with two different groups, moderated by Dance/USA's former director, Bonnie Brooks. The first group included people from fields and disciplines outside dance, such as for-profit entertainment companies, sports teams, and resorts. The second, called “The Artist's Voice/The Audience Voice” included dancers, choreographers, and audience members. These two roundtable reports provide for stimulating reading.