The solution lies in more aggressive audience-development programs and better reporting on the subject in general circulation newspapers and television news programs. If large numbers of people shy away from dance because they find it "difficult," that probably means our local writers, reporters and critics need to work harder at illuminating the subject and helping audiences understand and appreciate it.
We have to get away from the idea of dance as a frivolous and inconsequential activity and recognize it as a great art form with a long tradition whose energy and vitality ought to be harnessed for the economic development of our city. Once one gets past the prejudices of conventional wisdom, the prospect makes sense both artistically and in financial terms.
For example, the symphony and the opera company could collaborate with Peabody or the School for the Arts to create a ballet company that would draw significant support from three or four institutions, as well from state and local government, foundations, and corporate and private donors. It takes time to build a repertoire, develop audiences and establish a reputation. But the effort is worth it if it enhances the city's prestige as a cultural center and generates revenues through tourism.
There are already signs that the outlook for dance in Baltimore is improving. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is thinking about ways to incorporate dancers into its performances. This year, local choreographers have teamed with the Baltimore Opera Company and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in several widely applauded collaborations. Small modern dance companies are still being formed; Baltimore School for the Arts graduate Gary Shaw, who has made a successful career as a dancer with Dance Theater of Harlem and other companies, recently returned here with the goal of creating a new, multiethnic company.
The examples of successful companies in Annapolis and Washington show that ballet can flourish when the public and private sectors commit themselves to the long-term collaboration needed to make it happen. Historically, good ballet companies have helped build audiences not only for themselves but also for modern dance groups. There's no reason that can't happen here. The problem now is simply figuring out how to do it -- and then doing it.