NEA Arts Magazine

A Thorny but Wonderful Problem

Sustaining and Nourishing American Dance's Past and Future


Photo of Doug Sonntag

Dance Director Douglas Sonntag. Photo by Kevin Allen

In 1965, the first grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was personally delivered by Vice President Hubert Humphrey to American Ballet Theatre, beginning a long and productive relationship between the NEA and the American dance field. Other grants would soon follow, encouraging the proliferation of dance companies, presenters, choreographers, and service organizations that were making dance in all forms available to audiences across the country and, indeed, throughout the world.

Today, American dance is at a crossroads. The 20th century saw an explosion of creativity that has left us with an unmatched legacy of masterworks. The hallmark of the nation's dance artists, however, has always been forward looking, with resources rarely allocated to preserving the past. It is a thorny but wonderful problem to have a history so rich that its stewardship creates a dilemma between supporting preservation of dances of the past and creation of dances for the future.

Mindful of the dual need to develop a new generation of dance artists as well as save the best of our heritage, the NEA has allocated significant funds over the years to a variety of projects that achieve both goals. Most recently, the American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius initiative has proven to be a lifeline for dance companies seeking to revive works that have not been performed in many years and choreographers seeking to revisit their own earlier choreographic efforts.

Providing access to dance performances has been another ongoing commitment of the NEA that has not wavered over time. While touring is the financial lifeblood of a dance company, a performance outside of a company's home base is not an inexpensive proposition. Thus, the NEA supports touring by companies as well as education and community engagement activities that deepen the impact and reach of the art. Grants are awarded as well to presenters to ensure that dance remains an affordable offering in their communities. Ensuring the strength of the ecosystem that sustains and nourishes American dance has been a continuing priority of the NEA. These pages highlight just a few of the ways in which the NEA helps dance artists and their audiences to flourish.

Douglas Sonntag
Director, Dance