Seattle dance community takes leap of faith amid city’s changes

Contemporary dance seeks a new generation of donors, while ballet focuses on attracting younger audiences.


Contemporary Dance

At this particular, precarious moment in Seattle’s history, the contemporary dance scene is a bucket of conundrums.

Talk to almost any dancer, choreographer or artistic director and you’ll hear a wild oscillation between anxiety and hope.

On the anxiety side: spiking rents; construction squeezing out cheap rehearsal and performance spaces; the influx of a nouveau riche tech class that, with a few notable exceptions, doesn’t seem interested in attending or supporting the work. From that point of view, the current situation seems unsustainable.

On the hope side: Young dancers keep coming to make work here and find a way to eke out a living; the old guard (Pat Graney, Donald Byrd, Wade Madsen, Molly Sheldon Scott) soldiers on and mentors up-and-comers; Velocity Dance Center reports that audiences have grown by 298 percent since 2011.

A conversation with Donald Byrd — choreographer and longtime director of Spectrum Dance Theater — is a perfect example of the back-and-forth. Summing up the state of the Seattle dance scene, he immediately said: “I’ve been very disillusioned and disappointed with audiences … Seattle pats itself on the back about being progressive, but people are lazy. They love the image of performance art, they love this town, but they’re not going to leave their house to see it.”

On the other hand, he noted that the scene is becoming more ethnically diverse and “more white people are becoming aware of the work people of color are doing.” On the third hand, he’s watching the new wealth economically squeeze artists out without a new crop of young philanthropy. “At least the old robber barons like Rockefeller felt a sense of responsibility to give back to the community,” he said. “They were often awful people, but they felt a need to give.“

Dancer and choreographer Pat Graney seconded that idea. “Most newer rich people,” she said, “just want big toys.”

However, Tonya Lockyer, director of Velocity, said some of the dance center’s most significant donors…

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