News from The Dance Belt

by Jini Stolk

I’m not sure if the Regent Park/Parliament Street dance companies have officially adopted that term, but it wouldn’t be out of place. Not only is COBA becoming an anchor tenant of the Regent Park Cultural Centre, but Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie is firmly placed in their new space, The Citadel, just across the street. Ka:hawi is set to be a Regent Park fixture as associates of Native Earth Performing Arts, and Dance Umbrella of Ontario recently opened their co-location space on Parliament and Carlton. These newcomers are joining neighbourhood pioneers Toronto Dance Theatre/STDT, Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, along with Dancemakers in the Distillery.

It’s a dream for dance fans – and offers a focus, both practical and theoretical, for collaborative audience outreach and development.

I recently heard from Inga Petrie of Strategic Moves, commenting on my post on their study The Value of Presenting, which says that dance attendance by Canadians has grown to 15% in 2011 from about 5% in 1992:

“I find the attendance data fascinating. The 15% is a measure of the number of Canadians (‘breadth’) who have attended dance performances in 2011 – it is not a measure of frequency (or ‘depth’).”

The frequency aspect is where local organizations have to do work: I think one of the larger implications of the new data on ‘breadth of attendance’ is that it may motivate a rethink on marketing approaches and strategies. The old ways of list-based marketing may well miss this larger audience – or their motivations for attending. Contemporary/different kinds of marketing approaches may well be needed to draw in that audience more often. Also presenters may have greater opportunities to cater to the desires for “variety” audiences tend to have (variety in the sense of different experiences each time they attend) than a dance company that specializes in a particular style, for instance. So, are there implications for partnerships?

As a strategy type who amongst other things does work in audience development, this excites me to no end.”

It excites me too – as an opportunity for new thinking and practice, and as a challenge to companies along The Dance Strip to work together – as Donna Walker-Kuhne recently recommended – to raise dance’s profile and attendance.

To start with, how can these companies creatively respond to this piece by Nora Younkin from the Huffington? (thanks to Sue Edworthy Arts Planning for the connection)

“Sometimes it would seem audiences are afraid of modern dance because it’s not evident what it’s about, or what you’re supposed to get walking away from it. Let me tell you another secret: that’s okay. Sometimes it’s boring or sometimes you might downright hate a dance. Even if you love it, the challenge is to figure out why. Maybe on the whole, as a culture, we’re so used to being spoon fed meaning that we’ve lost interest in being challenged by our entertainment. Modern dance is a big invitation for interpretation, and sometimes it requires the audience to take an open-minded leap into the new, unknown, bizarre or abrasive.”

That’s not the easiest premise to develop a collaborative marketing plan around – but I think it can be done.

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