A Dancer's Guide to Houston

If you like to think big, love your car and are willing to piece together a living, Houston is your kind of dance town. A sprawling metropolis, Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., and boasts a can-do attitude that also embodies its dance scene—there’s activity at every level, from enthusiastic community groups to world-class companies.

A pit stop for Regionals, as well as Nationals in nearby Dallas and San Antonio, Houston is a comp kid’s dream. But, as in all major cities, funding is tight. Companies large and small vie for support from the Houston Arts Alliance and a handful of local foundations.
From higher-ed institutions that graduate dancers into local (and national) professional companies to the large number of venues that present dance, Houston offers myriad opportunities for its artists including a low cost of living. Here is a sampling of the city’s offerings. 


DANCE COMPANIES

Ad Deum Dance Company: A Christian worldview guides founder and director Randall Flinn and this faith-based company that also participates in the Project Dance Times Square in NYC. danceaddeum.com

Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre: In addition to The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty, the 2006-07 season includes Retrospective, featuring choreography created over the past 25 years; one work is by Ayman Harper, a former student and current member of The Forsythe Company. Lynette Mason Gregg directs. bahbt.org

Dominic Walsh Dance Theater: Former Houston Ballet principal Dominic Walsh runs this contemporary chamber group that is in demand all over the world. DWDT will close this season with Made in Italy, a mixed bill that includes the U.S. premiere of Aterballetto Artistic Director Mauro Bigonzetti’s acclaimed Pression. dwdt.org

Hope Stone, Inc.: Famous for her humor, Jane Weiner, a former Doug Elkins Dance company member, brings a NYC vibe to her pick-up company. Cooking Show, Hope Stone’s last major performance, explored humanity’s convoluted relationship to food in all its messy dimensions. Currently she’s reworking ’s—a tale of possession, which examines issues around ownership, for a November performance. A 12-foot wall of shoeboxes provides the backdrop. hopestoneinc.org

Houston Ballet: Thriving under the direction of Australian wunderkind Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet, on year 37, is the fifth largest company in the U.S. and is known for its dancers’ versatility and flawless technique. Last season, Welch put his own stamp on Swan Lake in a lush $1.6 million production with an updated storyline. This season is rich with blockbuster story ballets, including Ben Stevenson’s Dracula and Coppélia (after Arthur Saint-Leon) and Welch’s Madame Butterfly, along with two Houston premieres: Christopher Wheeldon’s Carnival of the Animals and Jirí Kylián’s Svadebka. houstonballet.org

The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company: One of the few remaining repertory companies, this contemporary jazz ensemble stands out from the pack. Known for picking choreographers on the cusp, such as Robert Battle, Pattie Obey and Peter Chu, the Met produces exciting and high-quality events. houstonmetdance.com

Kuumba House Dance Theatre: Kuumba House, under the direction of Lindi Yeni, performs a repertory of South African, West and East African dances, tours nationally and frequently collaborates with sister troupe Second Generation Dance Company. kuumbahouse.org

The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble: With 14 commissioned original musical scores, Brangwen makes live music central in her work. She regularly collaborates with Houston’s finest classical and jazz musicians and challenges the way audiences see and hear music and dance. brangwendance.org

Psophonia Dance Company: Sophia Torres and Sonia Noriega combined their mutual goals—and their first names—to make dances that appeal to a broad range of people. Frequent performances for young audiences are a large component of their outreach program. psophonia.com

Sandra Organ Dance Company: Sandra Organ, the first African-American dancer in Houston Ballet, now focuses on her heritage in many of her works. She’s danced to the speeches of Martin Luther King and last year celebrated the legacy of Rosa Parks—for heightened effect, half of the audience was asked to move seats to the back of the theater. organdance.org

Suchu Dance: The choreographic engine behind Houston’s experimental group is Jennifer Wood, whose savvy style includes an offbeat wit, a signature gesture-based movement vocabulary, and bizarre taste in music. Every piece feels like a journey—the destination depends on the viewer. suchudance.org

Travesty Dance Group: Karen Stokes, Kimberly Karpanyt and Rebecca Malcolm-Naib all taught together at Kent State. Now, they perform as Travesty in each other’s home cities of Houston, Philadelphia and Cleveland, presenting cutting-edge modern dance theater. travestydancegroup.org


ACADEMIC SCHOOLS

The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts: Many grads are now part of the local dance community. All dance students spend three hours per day dancing, and the remainder of the time in academics or electives. hspva.org/arts/dance

Houston Community College: Deborah Quanaim, chair of the Central Fine Arts Department, has trained many of Houston’s modern dancers. HCC is also the headquarters for the World Dance Institute, which focuses on the study, preservation and performance of traditional and cultural dance. http://
ccollege.hccs.cc.tx.us

Sam Houston State University: The oldest dance program in Texas, Sam Houston has had nearly 30 works selected for the American College Dance Festival Gala. With two resident companies, students get ample performance ops. Guest artists have included Donald McKayle, Rennie Harris, Bill Evans and Gus Solomons Jr. Graduates populate some of Houston’s finest companies. shsu.edu/~dnc_www/

San Jacinto College: Modern and ballet classes emphasize the understanding and practice of the fundamentals. Guest choreographers are invited on a regular basis to create or recreate work; students are often selected for the American College Dance Festival. sjcd.edu

University of Houston: University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance is the home of the Center for Choreography, founded in 2000. class.uh.edu/theatre/danceprogram.html


WHERE TO SEE DANCE

Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex: Voted the “best place to watch dance” by the Houston Press in 2005, Barnevelder houses three fully equipped rehearsal studios and a 120-seat performance venue with new lighting and sound equipment. Plus, the affordable rent is appealing. barnevelder.org

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts: This new and edgy venue celebrates the intersections between the literary, visual and performing arts. Fall programming includes a collaboration between choreographer Douglas Dunn and writer Anne Waldman. mitchellcenterforarts.org/public/default.aspx

DiverseWorks: This experimental venue, DiverseWorks offers residencies to dancers and performance artists, and brings in the best of the cutting-edge from New York and around the world. diverseworks.org

Gray Wolf Theatre: Houston’s newest venue, a 180-seat black box directed by lighting designer and dance enthusiast Thomas Coffman, offers an affordable and flexible space on the Westside for local dance groups. graywolftheatre.org

The Jewish Community Center: The JCC dance program, under the direction of Maxine Silberstein, is a bustling hub of modern and international dance. The JCC’s Kaplan Theater is the home of Dance Month, which takes place every January and features performances by up-and-coming choreographers and companies. jcchouston.org

Miller Outdoor Theatre: With 1,600 seats in the covered seating area and lawn seating for up to 15,000, the theater is a
popular venue for festivals. It also hosts Houston Ballet annually, along with several free dance events. milleroutdoortheatre.com

Society for the Performing Arts: Celebrating its 40th year, SPA is bringing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Spectrum Dance Theatre and the Moscow Festival Ballet to town this season. spahouston.org

Talento Bilingue de Houston: TBH, Houston’s major center for Latina culture, presents folkloric groups, modern dance and theater in its 300-seat space. tbhcenter.com

Wortham Theater Center: The Cadillac of midsize venues, Cullen Theater’s 1,110-seat theater is popular with dance companies wanting a slick downtown location. worthamcenter.org

Zilkha Hall at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts: A popular stop for leading modern dance companies, such as Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, Travesty and Psophonia, this intimate, yet classy 500-seat theater is also known for its Uniquely Houston series that features local companies. thehobbycenter.org

INDEPENDENT CHOREOGRAPHERS

Daniel Adame
Combining his training as a martial artist and sculptor, Houston’s zen dance master creates sensitive dance dramas that incorporate humor and stunning visuals. danielsunadame@yahoo.com

Roxanne Claire
Claire brings a European sensibility to
her work, which combines film, movement and text. She premiered Paris/GE at her 2006-07 DiverseWorks residency. roxanne@clairedance.com

Sara Draper
Currently, this veteran modern dance choreographer is working her way through the body parts in her ongoing opus Life Museum, which investigates America’s  body obsession in a humorous and poignant way. She just finished “Calves” and will begin “Eyes” next season. saradraper@dancepath.com

Amy Ell
Ell’s last evening-length piece placed dancers hanging from a specially built vertical wall, like suspended bugs. She brings her knowledge as a GYROTONIC and Pilates teacher to her works, which involve risk-taking moves that require powerful core strength. coreFitness7@aol.com

Leslie Scates
Scates, the local reigning queen of the improvisation scene, invented “Drive By Dancing”—dances meant to be seen from your car. lotusburger@sbcglobal.net

Toni Leago Valle
Choreographing from a feminist perspective, this Gen-Xer examines confined roles of contemporary women. She’s at work on a dance-theater piece titled Cracked, which will premiere in December at her DiverseWorks residency. tonivalle@earth link.net


FESTIVALS

Big Range Dance Festival
Houston’s favorite offbeat dance festival gives independent choreographers a chance to strut their stuff. Three weekends of experienced, emerging and just-out-of-the-egg artists show works that range from 4 minutes to evening-length. bigrange.org

Dance Houston
Mover and shaker Andrea Cody directs this inclusive festival that takes place once in the summer at Zilkha Hall and features community and professional groups. The event is fun, light and open to all who love dance. dancehouston.org

Dance Salad
Curator Nancy Henderek searches the world for the most compelling choreography of the year. Heading into its 12th year, the Salad includes several world premieres from new-to-Houston groups like Mexico’s Ballet de Monterrey, Béjart Ballet Lausanne and Beijing Modern Dance Company. The festival attracts fans from all over the country. dancesalad.org


TRAINING CENTERS

Allegro Academy of Dance
Classes: ballet, jazz/hip hop, tap
This studio, under the direction of Glenda Brown, is the destination for Westside folks looking for top-notch ballet training. 281-496-4670

Abbott’s Performing Arts Center
Classes: ballet, hip hop, jazz, tap
Owner Paula Abbott-Barry studied under Houston legend Patsy Swayze (Patrick’s mother) and has several Broadway credits. APAC’s competition team has been grand national showcase champs at Starbound for seven consecutive years—several students have received Future Star awards from DS. apacdance.com

Ballet Center of Houston
Classes: ballet, jazz
Director Victoria Vittum is known for her excellent teaching and well-rehearsed concerts with her youth company, Houston Repertoire Ballet. balletcenterofhouston.com

Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy
Classes: ballet
Since 1955, the Academy has been the city’s top ballet training facility. Both Houston Ballet director emeritus Ben Stevenson and current director Stanton Welch have been instrumental in shaping its current standards of excellence. More than half of HB’s dancers were trained here. The summer intensive program attracts bunheads from all over the world. houstonballet.org

The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company
Classes: ballet, creative dance, hip hop, jazz, modern, tap
With real wood floors, the area’s hottest jazz teachers and a convenient downtown location, this place feels like NYC. Teens are attracted by the studio’s urban vibe, and competition teams and teachers from other studios looking to pick up an extra edge are known to show up for class.
houstonmetdance.com

Margo Marshall/Gilbert Rome Studio of Dance
Classes: ballet, jazz
Now owned by former ABT and Boston
Ballet dancer Robert Underwood, the school offers a curriculum of creative dance,
children’s and preprofessional programs. This December, Ballet Theatre Houston, the school’s youth company, presents its first Nutcracker (second act only). studioofdance.net

Margo Marshall School of Ballet
Classes: ballet
Marshall started this school in 1958, and many of her students have gone on to professional careers or to open their own studios. The youth company, City Ballet of Houston, performs The Nutcracker and a spring concert. cityballethouston.com

North Harris Performing Arts
NHPA is owned by eight professional dancers from Revolve Dance Company. With about 100 elite competitive dancers, NHPA is known for innovative choreography, outstanding technique and bringing home the platinum. nhpadance.com

Progressions Performing Arts
Classes: ballet, creative dance, hip hop, jazz, leaps and turns, musical theater, pointe, swing, tap
In under 10 years, this bustling studio has grown to an enrollment of 325 and is a major training center north of Houston. Its student performing group, American Jazz Dance Company, is well regarded on the competition circuit. ppadance.com

Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Classes: ballet, Broadway studio workshop, hip hop, jazz, Kindermusik, musical theater, Pilates, tap, Vaganova
Lynette Mason Gregg’s school dates back to 1972 and provides quality dance education for those living south of Houston. royalacademyoffinearts.com

Nancy Wozny is a Houston-based dance and health writer.

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