Here's Why You Should Say Yes to the West (Coast)
When it comes to the West Coast, it's easy to see why L.A. often steals the show—flashy classes, performances and companies, all under the captivating Hollywood lights? It's a dance lover's dream. But the West also offers tons of other strong dance communities, and they're worth knowing. Packed with everything from renowned ballet companies to boundary-pushing contemporary groups, here are the non-L.A. dance hubs that should be on your radar.
San Francisco, CA
Everything about San Francisco feels iconic, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown to the War Memorial Opera House, where San Francisco Ballet, the country's oldest ballet company, performs. If you can tear yourself away from sightseeing, you'll quickly realize that the dance scene is booming.
• At the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, you can take several different summer intensives, or audition for the year-round program. Want to explore cutting-edge contemporary dance? The Conservatory offers Ohad Naharin's Gaga movement language and William Forsythe's Improvisational Technologies.
• ODC's home is appropriately called a campus: The sprawling complex includes a wellness clinic, a Pilates studio and a school offering hundreds of weekly classes—plus a performing company, ODC/Dance. Choreographers can even produce their own work in the 170-seat theater.
• San Francisco Dance Center is home to Alonzo King LINES Ballet and its associated BFA program at Dominican University of California. A day of classes at its open program might mean sharing a barre with LINES company members—and then running down the hall for flamenco.
• In the fall, don't miss the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, which features everything from international shorts to feature-length documentaries.
"As a young dancer, I was able to study everything from ballet and modern styles like Gaga to authentic Bollywood and classical Chinese dance in San Francisco—the opportunities to immerse myself with the experts were right there. Having exposure to so many genres has given me a unique dance voice." —Mia Chong, apprentice at ODC/Dance
Alonzo King LINES Ballet's Michael Montgomery and Kara Wilkes (RJ Muna, courtesy Alonzo King LINES Ballet)
Las Vegas, NV
Vegas often attracts dancers seeking commercial or showgirl opportunities, thanks to its award-winning resident productions, like Britney Spears' Britney: Piece of Me and Jennifer Lopez's All I Have. But the city also offers lots for modern and ballet lovers.
• One of the city's first contemporary groups, Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Founded by Bernard H. Gaddis and Charmaine Hunter, the company performs a repertory of over 40 contemporary ballets.
• Nevada Ballet Theatre offers several full-length classical ballets each season, and its academy is top-notch.
• Molodi Live is a performance group that blends collegiate stepping, tap and hip hop in energetic pieces with complex body percussion and rhythms.
• The New Dance Foundation is home to Kelly Roth & Dancers, a renowned postmodern company whose choreographer, Kelly Roth, is in residence at the city's College of Southern Nevada, too. The organization also hosts the annual Las Vegas Dance in the Desert Festival, attracting top dancers from around the country.
• Acclaimed dance programs at University of Nevada and College of Southern Nevada allow students to study everything from tap, jazz and ballroom to dance history.
"The Las Vegas dance community is small, but I love that about it. It's given me the opportunity to meet and share the stage with so many different, talented artists. And it's always great to see familiar faces in the audience." —Marie-Joe Tabet, associate artistic director and dancer with Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater in "Bata," by Bernard Graddis (John Anthony Rohling, courtesy Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater)
San Diego, CA
San Diego's warm and sunny weather, not to mention its location right on the California coastline, is a huge draw—and its dance scene is blossoming.
• The Balanchine-based City Ballet of San Diego is the city's go-to for all things classical, and also offers a conservatory school. San Diego Ballet and California Ballet also perform traditional and contemporary works in the city.
• Housed in the city's historic Liberty Station, Malashock Dance brings modern to the city with a performing company and school.
• PGK Dance Project is the city's premier contemporary dance company, often performing its varied repertory in alternative spaces throughout the city.
"There's lots of room for evolution and experimentation in San Diego. It's one of the reasons I've enjoyed working here." —Peter G. Kalivas, director of PGK Dance Project
Malashock Dance (John Malashock, courtesy Malashock Dance)
With sunsets over the Puget Sound and an active volcano on the horizon, Seattle offers its burgeoning dance community the chance to live that big-city life, while still in proximity to the great outdoors.
• Former PNB principal dancer Olivier Wevers founded contemporary group Whim W'Him in 2009, and the company has steadily built up an I'm-dying-to-dance-that rep (think work by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Loni Landon and Larry Keigwin).
• Classical crown jewel Pacific Northwest Ballet and contemporary bastion Spectrum Dance Theater are two of Seattle's oldest companies. They both have pre-professional schools and summer intensives.
• Velocity Dance Center boasts dozens of classes, workshops and two summer festivals. It's also now home to up-and-coming choreographer and dancer Kate Wallich, who recently expanded her company, The YC, to form YC2 in partnership with Velocity.
• Seattle is a destination for many national dance tours. Meany Theater, part of the performing-arts center at the University of Washington, hosts everyone from Mark Morris Dance Group to Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
"Seattle is a progressive ideas city, consistently on the cutting edge of technology, design, art and social change. It truly is the Wild West out here—a city filled with pioneers in all fields." —Kate Wallich, dancer and choreographer
Whim W'Him performing Kate Wallich's "Little Bunnies" in Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park (Courtesy Andrew J.S.)
Portland's edgy and artsy vibe extends to its dance community—it's a contemporary lover's dream.
• NW Dance Project is one of the city's most renowned groups and is committed to presenting contemporary works by new and experimental choreographers.
• Ballerinas will find lots to love about Portland. Oregon Ballet Theatre is the largest professional ballet company in the state, and also features a school, as well as OBT2 for younger dancers. PDX Contemporary Ballet leads the city's contemporary ballet scene, performing in traditional and nontraditional venues across Portland.
• The Polaris Dance Company merges hip-hop, African and Latin movement with aerial pyrotechnics, and presents two dance festivals annually. It also features two youth companies, plus an acclaimed training center.
• BodyVox, led by Emmy Award–winning choreographers Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, combines dance and film, and is known for its athletic, rich movement—and more than 200 original works.
• White Bird, a local presenting company, and Portland'5 Centers for the Arts bring all kinds of famous companies and productions to the Portland area.
"I recently moved to Portland to join PDX Contemporary Ballet, and I'm absolutely in love with this city. Portland embodies a culture of acceptance and inclusiveness, and the dance community is no exception. It immediately made me feel at home." —Kaileigh O'Neil, dancer with PDX Contemporary Ballet
The Polaris Dance Company (BMAC Photography, courtesy Polaris Dance Company)
Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver has officially established itself as a bustling arts hub. The city's impressive cultural diversity ensures that you can find just about every genre of world dance you could dream of.
• The annual Vancouver Tap Dance Festival has attracted top-rate talent like Dorrance Dance and Savion Glover for decades. The Vancouver Tap Dance Society provides dozens of classes for all ages, plus it's home to TapCo, a professional youth-performance ensemble, and Heart & Sole, an adult performing group.
• The renowned Ballet BC performs contemporary works by acclaimed choreographers like William Forsythe and Aszure Barton, under the artistic direction of Emily Molnar, formerly of
The National Ballet of Canada.
• Pacific DanceArts, the home of Coastal City Ballet, has a pre-professional training program offering a Royal Academy of Dance syllabus. Vancouver is also home to Goh Ballet Academy, which provides summer programs and a conservatory focusing on classical training.
• Vancouver's contemporary dance scene is, in a word, huge. Leading the charge is Kidd Pivot, founded by renowned choreographer Crystal Pite; be on the lookout for the workshops and master classes it hosts. MOVETHECOMPANY, founded by Joshua Beamish, offers both Vancouver and NYC performances every season. And the response. dance company performs contemporary works set to original music.
• Harbour Dance Centre is one of the city's largest studios, with plenty of technique classes in everything from pointe and waacking to contemporary and Broadway jazz. You can also take on multiple styles at Arts Umbrella Dance program, which offers professional training, summer intensives and a post-secondary program awarding dancers degrees through the AU & Vancouver Community College Dance Diploma Program.
"Vancouver has a unique energy. It forces you to be tenacious and curious. I'm constantly inspired by traveling to other cities, but I'm always proud to tell someone I'm from Vancouver." —Amber Funk Barton, artistic director of the response. contemporary company
Ballet BC in "Solo Echo" (Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC)