The Million-Dollar Companies, Class of 2019

2020 changed everything, but before 2020, there was 2019, and in 2019, there were 116 non-profit dance companies in the United States spending more than $1 million that year.

This analysis is flawed. There are conflicts and gaps in the source data. Some of these are just dance performance companies, but many also operate dance schools, which is an important thing to do, but complicates the expense structure (and makes it hard to compare…). Some are part of conglomerate organizations that include a bunch of not-[directly]-dance operations (looking at you, Dayton Performing Arts Alliance). Fiscal years don’t align (I need some extra capacity to sort that out, but it’s possible… someday). I’m also not adjusting for inflation (for the record, it’s about 8% 2014-2019). This is a first-stab at the last “pre-pandemic” data that’s available – it’s not “correct.” Dance economics data is… messy.

Some observations….

Between 2014 and 2019 (an arbitrary 5-year window), 105 (90.5%) of these companies grew their budget, only 11 (9.5%) shrank, and none went out of business (though one of them, Odyssey Dance Theater would voluntarily shut down their performance operations in 2022, and RIOULT Dance NY would fold in 2021, just after opening their $6 million forever home). At least at the $1 million+ level, dance companies are surprisingly stable.

There’s an outlier (Ping Chong and Company), which had a suspiciously low 2014 reported one-year expenses of just ~$109,000 when their annual expenses were otherwise well above $500,000, but other than that, the company demonstrating the greatest growth (4.7x) from 2014 to 2019 is Charlottesville Ballet. Other companies that more than doubled their budget are Pureelements (3.3x), BalletX (2.8x), American Midwest Ballet (2.8x), Urbanity Dance (2.8x), Gibney Dance (2.7x), Step Afrika! (2.5x), Urban Bush Women (2.4x), Collage Dance Collective (2.3x), Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (2.2x), New Ballet Ensemble (2.2x), Newport Contemporary Dance (2.2x), Metropolitan Ballet Ensemble (2.1x), and Northwest Dance Project (2.1x).

The companies that shrunk didn’t actually shrink that much – Pilobolus (0.6x) took the biggest hit, Trisha Brown Dance Company (0.7x), Mystic Ballet (0.7x), California Ballet (0.8x), DIAVOLO (0.8x), Koresh Dance Company (0.9x), and Madison Ballet (0.9x). Boston Ballet, by far the largest company to shrink in this period, lost less than 5% of its budget, and STREB Extreme Action Company, Limon Dance Company, and Lone Star Ballet were all within 2% of their 2014 budgets in 2019, if on the short side.

Charlottesville Ballet was founded in 2007, and managed to get to $1 million by 2019 (or maybe 2018 – missing some data there). As impressive as that is, Dance Downtown LA (founded 2012), Urbanity Dance (founded 2011), and American Midwest Ballet (founded 2009) got there just a bit faster.

The total 2019 expenses for this group is $796 million, and the average is $6.9 million. 32 companies have budgets larger than this; 84 are smaller. These same 116 companies spent $668 million in 2014 (average $5.4 million). Averages aren’t really fair here at all, but a bit surprising, that – the average million+ dollar dance company grew by $1.5 million in 5 years? $300,000 per year? Did not see that coming…

Lords of the Dance (the Artistic Directors)

Today I offer an excursion into artistic authority – Who gets to decide how the resources of American dance companies are applied? (I use “lords” advisedly – it’s mostly men at this scale, more on that later).

The Biggest Companies

Limiting myself to the largest non-profit dance companies in the United States (because my sanity requires some limits), and using pre-pandemic budgets (because nothing newer makes any sense yet…). There are just 41 companies operate in the $5+ million annual budget range (there’s some wiggle room – some of these are not just dance companies). Those companies had a combined FY2019 budget of just over $660 million, and more than a third of that is with New York City Ballet and the Baby Balanchines.

The average age of these companies is 57.6 years (with some room for interpretation). Average age of the artistic directors is just about the same – 57.9 (also missing a few data points here…).

Btw, start planning to celebrate Martha Graham Dance Company’s 100th in 2026…

Captains of the Ballet Stations

Artistic directors tend to stick around a long time, sometimes a very long time, and this makes perfect sense. Once you’ve got a “fully armed and operational ballet station” at your disposal (apologies to both Emperor Palpatine and the few not-“ballet” companies below…), there aren’t many reasons to give that up (especially if the company has your name on it).

CompaniesYears with Current AD
ODC Dance52
Mark Morris Dance Group
Richmond Ballet
Alonzo King LINES Ballet41
Gibney Dance32
Tulsa Ballet28
Nashville Ballet*25
Ballet Arizona
Ballet Austin
Boston Ballet22
Milwaukee Ballet21
Houston Ballet20
Martha Graham Dance Company
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Colorado Ballet17
Ballet West
Joffrey Ballet
Sarasota Ballet
Ballet Hispanico
Dance Theatre of Harlem
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Dayton Ballet
Miami City Ballet11
Ballet Metropolitan (Columbus)
Kansas City Ballet
Philadelphia Ballet9
Atlanta Ballet
Washington Ballet
Nevada Ballet Theatre6
Paul Taylor Dance Company5
Carolina Ballet
New York City Ballet
Hubbard Street Dance
Orlando Ballet
American Ballet Theater
Charlotte Ballet
Cincinnati Ballet
San Francisco Ballet
Texas Ballet Theater
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
* Nick Mullikin will replace Paul Vasterling in June 2023. 
† Robert Garland will replace Virginia Johnson in July 2023.
‡ Dayton Ballet is advertising the position of artistic director.

Change Has Come

Since the pandemic, the rate-of-AD-change seems to have picked up significantly – two new ADs in 2021 seems fairly normal, but there were five in 2022, and we’re not even halfway through 2023, and there are already two, with at least two more coming…

This isn’t just the pandemic (that does make a convenient point-of-reference) – there are tectonic social, economic, and political forces at work in this early-21st Century world. We live in interesting times.

Interesting times are ripe with confusion and drama. Also, opportunities.

Are You Next?

If you’re interested in being one of these artistic directors, the search is on to replace Karen Russo Burke at the Dayton Ballet.