NEA Arts Magazine

First Steps

The NEA Fosters Dance Artists and Audiences Nationwide


Dancers wearing black and white formal clothes in various poses dancing around a column

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's performance of Another Evening: Serenade/The Proposition, a new piece by Jones on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, was featured at the NEA-supported 75th anniversary of the American Dance Festival, which was attended by participants of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance. Photo by Paul B. Goode

In the mid-1960s, the U.S. boasted only a small contingent of professional dance companies clustered in a few urban centers. By contrast, for its first of two deadlines for fiscal year (FY) 2009 Access to Artistic Excellence funding, the NEA received more than 200 applications to support dance projects in 26 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The number of potential projects and geographic reach increase significantly with the inclusion of dance projects submitted through other grant categories. By its 40th anniversary in 2006, the Arts Endowment had awarded more than $300 million to support dance companies, producers, choreographers, festivals, workshops, service organizations, and other projects.

The NEA has played a catalytic role in nurturing, growing, and preserving America's dance heritage. Early funding from the NEA allowed companies to lengthen their seasons, employ more dancers, and develop national and regional touring schedules, often in partnership with the emerging state arts agencies. Through the Expansion Arts program (1971–95), the NEA also fostered diversity in the field via support for artists and organizations working in other cultural traditions, including the Dance Theater of Harlem and Ballet Hispanico. Most important, artistic and administrative dance staff were, for the first time, able to work full-time in their field.

The Arts Endowment helped broaden the audience for dance not only through touring support, but also by funding broadcast programs such as Dance in America, which exponentially increased the reach of live dance performances. These broadcasts also helped preserve dance presentations for future generations of artists and audiences. Another early preservation effort was the NEA-commissioned Images of American Dance, a study of dance documentation and archival resources in six U.S. cities, which resulted in the Dance Heritage Coalition, a body committed to the preservation of dance works that, unlike in other performing arts, existed primarily in the memories of dance artists.

The Arts Endowment also produced research reports such as Raising the Barre: The Geographic, Financial, and Economic Trends of Nonprofit Dance Companies (2003), a comprehensive study of the nonprofit dance world.

The following pages present a microcosm of the NEA's continuing support for projects in the dance field. These range from the creation of accessible dance works in northern California and a Southwestern dance festival for U.S. and world companies to the resurrection of underperformed historic ballets in New England and a tour of a new multimedia dance work created in the Midwest. In addition to performances, the NEA supports projects such as an education program aimed at creating new generations of dance artists and aficionados in central Texas as well as a national service organization based in the nation's capital that advocates to give the nation's dance professionals a voice.