So you think you can attend dance performances Canada

by Jini Stolk

“Dance Sees Remarkable Increase in Attendance” according to The Value of Presenting study on dance attendance in Canada, which says that dance attendance by Canadians has grown to 15% in 2011 from about 5% in 1992 to 7% in 1998, in the first Canadian national data on dance attendance available in 14 years. (Dance Attendance Supplementary Analysis ) I don’t know whether Toronto companies have seen this surge at their own box offices (somehow I’d be surprised…) but the report traces this cross-Canada growth to the popularity of TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing with the Stars.

As an old (did I mean to say that?) dance manager I am interested in this idea, which was also a strong theme in Creative Trust’s Audience Engagement Survey and Alan Brown’s Ontario Arts Engagement Study for the Ontario Arts Council. Both found a strong connection between people who participate in an art form, actively or through media or internet involvement, and those who go to live performances. In fact attendance levels are twice as high for these individuals; and people who watch dance on TV at least twice a month are twice as likely to attend professional dance performances.

For an art form which has rarely enjoyed great turnout, attendance-wise, or a large audience base, this may seem counter-intuitive. Aren’t the people watching So You Think You Can Dance stuck to their couches, wrapped up in overly emotional and sexualized choreography? Aren’t they entranced more by the contest than the art?

Yes, probably, for many. But some of those viewers are no doubt swept up in the beauty of bodies in motion, and the body’s eloquence at telling stories and evoking emotion. After all, dance was probably the earliest form of social cohesion and connection to the spiritual for humankind. If even a small percentage of dance TV watchers can be enticed to our theatres, these are new audiences who may expand their interests over time and may some day wind up in your theatre watching your new piece.

As Alan Brown said, this is the moment for dance! Let’s seize it.

Wondering how? A recent study by TCC Group for The Wallace Foundation titled Building Arts Organizations that Build Audiences identified the three most effective methods for growing audiences: understanding audiences and figuring out strategies to “meet them where they are; ” involving the whole organization in audience development; and creating a culture that embraces experimentation and learning.

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