Keke’s Take: New Orleans and the State of Dance

loIf dance is a natural outcome of exuberance, then it stands to reason that there’s no better home for it than New Orleans.  Our city is the origin of more colors than can be named, more music than can be written on sheets, and more personality than one can even imagine.  Of course the dance community is so rich and varied; so full of innovation and life.  From bounce, to burlesque, to ballet, another iteration of a current dance discipline is always right around the corner.

There is obviously no shortage of talent in our city, either; all you have to do is take a French Quarter stroll, and you’ll see it on every corner.  At Live Oak alone, the students that have passed through our doors have earned themselves impressive accolades at extremely young ages.  Most recently, our talented student Sterling Waterfield left to attend the school for The American Ballet Theater.  And these departings of our insanely talented and hardworking students are always bittersweet, and not just because we will miss them, which of course we do.  It’s also bittersweet because we know it’s almost impossible to keep career dancers in our city, and if they are going to pursue a real professional path, we know that they are probably going to have to leave.

So, why is it that professional dancers are so frequently leaving our city to pursue a paying career?

First, New Orleans has not a single full-time professional dance company.  The closest thing we have to that is the Marigny Opera House Ballet (of which Jarina is the Director of Rehearsals, don’t forget, hey girl hey!), who currently only has nine contract dancers under their roof.  The biggest ballet and/or dance productions are typically housed in the Mahalia Jackson Performing Arts Center, courtesy of the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA).  While these performances are usually the most impressive regarding ticket sales and seats, the dancers on stage are simply national companies passing through.  And, as exciting as this is for us (ahem, me, as I absolutely live for these performances), it doesn’t allow for very supportive funding of our local dancers.

Audiences in local shows vary; the burlesque shows are, of course, more on the popular side, while some other audiences are only comprised of friends and families of the dancers.  In ballet, nothing comes close to the comparatively enormous audiences selling out the Mahalia Jackson every season; but, as you know now, typically none of the featured companies are local.

While there is a plethora of ballet school in our area, there is less of a push for those students and their families to attend local ballets.  And there should be!  Students should know the direction in which their hard work is taking them.  I remember being bored to death at ballet recitals on the Northshore (usually for friends or family), having absolutely no idea at all at how rich and vibrant the true ballet world actually is.  Back then, at the mere mention of the word “Nutcracker”, and my brain would basically shut down.  Truth.  I went on to study visual art and held my boredom of ballet for way longer than I should have as an arts-minded person.

What Live Oak seeks to do is to both inspire our students to push their practice, to get a glimpse of how beautiful and energizing and creative ballet and theater truly is, and not simply be a “dance factory” for young children.  There is more to ballet than tutus and red lipstick (although those are pretty great things, in my opinion).  To us, dance education should be exactly that; an education.  This is why I am truly proud, as a visual artist and also as a parent, to be a part of this company.  It’s so much more than just another children’s dance company.  For goodness’ sakes, Live Oak’s founder is the Director of Rehearsals at the best local professional dance company that exists.  I think that’s pretty fantastic.

I would encourage our Live Oak family to support New Orleans ballet and dance by following the New Orleans Dance Network (a recently founded company empowering local dancers) and attending as many local shows as possible.

Enjoy the video below that was put together by Dance/USA (in which Live Oak Dance is featured!) detailing the state of dance in our city.  Immersing ourselves in the arts is good for our brains, it’s good for our kids, and it’s good for our community.  The Marigny Opera House Ballet’s first show of the season is The Book of Saints.  Not only are the dancers and directors local, even original score was composed by a local.  How amazing is that?  It is the weekend of October 6, I will be there, and I hope you all will consider going as well.  Let’s get New Orleans going in a better direction in funding our local dancers, y’all!