The assessment of the Birmingham dance community was commissioned by The Alabama Dance Council (ADC) and was conducted in 2007. There were three main goals for the project: help the ADC develop the most appropriate services and programs for its constituents, produce a credibly researched and unbiased portrait of the dance community as it actually exists today, and test the process of assessment as a pilot project for a potential future assessment of dance in the entire state of Alabama. Below are some key findings from the approximately 75 dance-making and dance-educating entities found in Jefferson County.
Jefferson County Commission’s Jefferson Community Arts Fund administered by Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham
National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Southern Arts Federation and Alabama State Council on the Arts
Dance Flourishes in Birmingham: An Assessment of the Jefferson County Dance Community
John Munger and The Alabama Dance Council, authors
© March 2007
The Birmingham dance community is in a period of expansion and transition. The rich tradition of ballet remains dominant for now, but the context is widening. Audiences, critics, funders, and the dance field itself will soon come to terms with the fact that Birmingham is being blessed with a dance renaissance. The new and small companies will need the support from the community and the wisdom from within to grow past their present status of hopeful energy combined with painful lack of infrastructure. There is a tremendous amount of growth, energy, and novelty in the field. But financial support, audience interest, dancer compensation, employment of staff, and general awareness has not quite caught up with this burgeoning phenomenon. The good news is that the city of Birmingham can seize on this growth and expansion of dance as a poster message for the attractiveness of the community. The harder reality is that change is painful, and it’s on the way.
There is corresponding change afoot in the area of dance-education. For several decades a culture of dance-education has been established and maintained, with particular emphasis on ballet in its many forms, ranging from classical to contemporary. The long history of strong schooling has produced one major company and fertile soil for a broadening and deepening of the field. At this point, performing companies do not match the educational infrastructure for paying dancers, attracting audiences, or presenting a diversity of choices. But that is now changing, and changing quickly. New companies including ballet, modern, and culturally-specific forms have suddenly begun to sprout. The soil was ready. It remains to be seen if the community will water, tend, and cultivate the newly emerging diversification of the field.
Like many dance communities, the Birmingham dance world experiences too many people working with too few resources in too much isolation. Most feel that the audiences and students who attend their shows and study in their classes are a loyal and well-informed group, but a wider perspective shows that most of these are niche audiences that may not have enough potential for expansion as the size and diversity of the dance community grows.
There is a widespread feeling that great possibilities are just over the horizon, coupled with strong civic pride that Birmingham has the grounded, diverse, and growing dance community that it does. One interview participant who moved to the city some time ago said that Birmingham was perhaps the most philanthropic and supportive city for the arts that she/he had ever seen. But there is also a feeling of impending challenge. Issues of competition, loss of trained dancers, lack of resources, and obstacles to good public exposure are lurking just beneath the optimistic demeanor of the community as a whole.
Birmingham is an exciting place in which to be a dance professional today.