Highlights from the Dance/USA Staff Residency Program in Kansas City, MO

The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountains, Kansas City, MO. Photo credit: David Arborgast, courtesy of Visit KC.

In 2016, a Dance/USA staff member lived in Kansas City, MO for ten days, meeting with dancemakers and cultural leaders, attending performances and other cultural events, and exploring resources available to local artists as part of the Dance/USA Staff Residency Program. This program was developed as a means to more deeply connect with dance communities located throughout the United States. Dance/USA will use the learning to inform its role as the national service organization for professional dance.  

The Kansas City Dance Community

The Kansas City metro area is home to a number of dance artists and dance companies working in a range of genres, including aerial, ballet, belly dance, classical Indian dance, contemporary indigenous dance, hip-hop, site-specific multi-disciplinary performance installations, and street dance. In addition, among a number of modern/contemporary companies, some have been in existence for 25 and 30 years. Kansas City Ballet is one of the largest and oldest dance companies in the area.

Dance/USA interviewed at least 37 artists and individuals associated with dance in Kansas City. Some of the companies were project-based and others were 501(c)(3) organizations. Some of the dance companies had as few as 6 dancers, others had as many as 36 dancers. Dancemakers noted that artists often perform in more than one company. Additionally, a number of independent choreographers and independent dance artists live and work in the Kansas City area.

Challenges and Opportunities

Dance/USA heard about numerous issues and challenges faced by dancemakers in Kansas City. These include funding; the lack of a good, affordable 500-seat performance venue; a lack of marketing staff or marketing skills in the dance community; stagnant audience growth; a lack of dance coverage in the local press; a feeling that visual arts and music dominate the Kansas City arts scene; and the need for another Kansas City dance festival. Some dancemakers commented that that the dance community seems fractured or dispersed.

When asked what would assist the dance community in meeting the challenges it faces, dancemakers mentioned professional development opportunities for working professional artists; a unified support system, a website, a community calendar, a listserv, or community meetings for the dance community; and community space. Dance/USA heard that dance artists are moving to Kansas City, that the region has a lot to offer. Dancemakers that participated in the Staff Residency Program noted that Kansas City has a vibrant arts scene, a youthful energy, a booming downtown scene, a low cost of living, and a supportive attitude toward the arts.  

The following photos feature some of the individuals and organizations in Kansas City who met with Dance/USA during the 2016 Staff Residency. This should not be viewed as an exhaustive list of all dance in Kansas City. 


  • Founding date: 1999
  • ArtsKC, the regional arts council, serves the five-county region – Clay, Platte and Jackson counties in Missouri; Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas. 

The ArtsKC offices in the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City. Photo credit: Dance/USA.

Charlotte Street Foundation

  • Founding date: 1997
  • Charlotte Street Foundation is an arts organization that supports the arts in Kansas City, Mo.

Dance performance at Charlotte Street Foundation's performance space, La Esquina, featuring Miguel Gutierrez. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Street Foundation.  

City in Motion

  • Founding date: 1985
  • Number of dancers in the company: 6
  • Genre: Modern/contemporary

City in Motion in Fractals, choreography by Andrea Skowronek. Dancers: Tuesday Faust and Katie Brennan. Photo credit: Mike Strong. Photo courtesy of City in Motion.  

The Folly Theater

  • Opening date: 1900.  
  • The theater presents a variety of concerts, shows, and performances.
  • Capacity: 1,078. 

The Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Visit KC.

Gurukul Dance Company

  • Founding date: 2012
  • Number of dancers: 10
  • Genre: Kuchipudi

Gurukul Dance Company. Dancer: Samarpita Bajpai. Photo credit: Mike Strong. Photo courtesy of the artist.  

Jane Gotch

  • Founding date: Gotch began making work in Kansas City in 2008
  • Number of dancers: 1 and collaborators
  • Genre: Site-specific, multi-disciplinary performance installations

Jane Gotch. Photo credit: Timothy Amundson. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Johnson County Community College Performing Arts Series

  • Founding date: 1990
  • The series presents dance as well as a variety of concerts, shows, and performances. It is also a commissioner of dance.
  • Johnson County Community College (JCCC) has two venues: 
    • Yardley Hall, which seats 1,250
    • The Polsky Theatre, which seats 400

Johnson County Community College's Yardley Hall. Photo credit: Susan McSpadden. Photo courtesy of JCCC.

KC Contemporary Dance

  • Number of dancers: 9
  • Genre: Contemporary

KC Contemporary Dance in Under the Rain, choreography by Leigh Murray. Dancers: Caroline Morales and Laura Fiatte. Photo credit: Philip Koenig. Photo courtesy of KC Contemporary Dance.

Kansas City Ballet

  • Founding date: 1957
  • Number of dancers: 36
  • Genre: Ballet

Kansas City Ballet dancer Joshua Bodden with KCB School dancers in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo credit: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Ballet.

Kansas City Dance Festival

  • Founding date: 2013 
  • The organization presents an annual dance festival during the summer.

Kansas City Dance Festival. Photo credit: Philip Koenig. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Dance Festival.

Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey

  • Founding date: 1984
  • The organization presents Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, is an arts educator for youth, and presents an annual Race, Place, Diversity Symposium.

Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey Spring 2017 Concert featuring AIleyCamp the Group. Photo credit: Mike Strong. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey.

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

  • Opening date: 2011
  • The Kauffman Center presents a variety of concerts, shows, and performances.
  • Venues:
    • The Muriel Kauffman Theatre, which seats 1,800
    • Helzberg Hall, which seats 1,600

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Taylor Sloan. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Ballet.

La Esquina

Maura Garcia Dance

  • Founding date: 2012
  • Number of dancers: 1
  • Genre: Contemporary Indigenous performance

Maura Garcia Dance. Dancer: Maura Garcia. Photo credit: Chris Randle. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Owen/Cox Dance Group

  • Founding date: 2006
  • Number of dancers: 13
  • Genre: Contemporary

Owen/Cox Dance Group. Dancers: Demetrius McClendon and Rachel Coats. Photo credit: Kenny Johnson. Photo courtesy of Owen/Cox Dance Group.

Quixotic Cirque Nouveau

  • Founding date: 2006
  • Number of dancers: 10
  • Genre: Contemporary/aerial/site-specific, multi-disciplinary performance installations

Quixotic Cirque Nouveau. Photo credit: Serena S. Y. Hsu. Photo courtesy of Quixotic Cirque Nouveau.

Storling Dance Theater

  • Founding date: 1996
  • Number of dancers: 13
  • Genre: Contemporary

Storling Dance Theater. Photo courtesy of Storling Dance Theater.

University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Performing Arts Center  

  • Opening date: 1979
  • UMKC has one venue used for dance performance:
    • White Recital Hall, which seats 612

UMKC James C. Olson Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: Dance/USA.


  • Founding date: 2015
  • Number of dancers: 10
  • Genre: Ballet, modern, jazz, tap, Irish Step, and ballroom 

VidaDance. Photo credit: Kevin Dinneen. Photo courtesy of VidaDance.

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company

  • Founding date: 1991
  • Number of dancers: 11
  • Genre: Contemporary

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company. Dancer: Winston Dynamite Brown. Photo credit: Michael Manley. Photo courtesy of Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance.

The above is a list of some of the individuals and organizations who met with Dance/USA during the Staff Residency Program and should not be viewed as an exhaustive list of all dance in Kansas City. 

Dancemakers, individuals, and organizations not pictured: Allan Gray, Cat Mahari, Frank Monk Pham, Gary Abbott, Hampton Stevens, KC Studio, Manual Lukky Harvey, Nicole English, Nritya School of Indian Dance, Paul Horsley, Paula Weber, Phi Tran, Sabrina Madison-Cannon, and Seamless Dance Theatre.

Find a listing of all the dancemakers and organizations that took part in the Kansas City Staff Residency Program here.

All photos are courtesy of the artist or organization listed unless otherwise noted.

About Kansas City, MO

  • 2015 Population: 475,378. The city’s population is increasing. 
  • 59% White, 30% Black, 2.5% Asian, .5% Native, 3% Two or More, 10% Latino    
  • 32% possess a BA or higher
  • Median income: $45,376
  • Major industries: Pharmaceuticals, IT. A number of corporate headquarters are located in Kansas City including Hallmark and H&R Block.
  • Kansas City experienced a boom in the past 10-15 years led by visual arts, music, and more. Downtown Kansas City has been revitalized and has become a destination.  
  • High-end visual arts are also important. Kansas City is home to a relatively large budget museum, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art as well as a number of other arts museums. 
  • There are 253 arts and culture non profit organizations in the Kansas City metro area. (KC Studio Magazine)
  • Kansas City dance venues range from the Kauffman Center to the H&R Block City Stage with about 9 venues suitable for dance performances.

Source: U.S. Census Quick Facts; 2015 and observations made during interviews with the local dance community unless otherwise noted.

About the Dance/USA Staff Residency Program
Between 2013-2014, Dance/USA participated in the EmcArts Innovation Lab for Arts Development Agencies, a learning experience that provided Dance/USA with the opportunity to explore its most complex challenges and implement learning activities to move towards adaptive responses for better supporting dance communities. During its participation in the EmcArts Innovation Lab, Dance/USA developed and piloted a staff residency program as a means of more deeply connecting with dance communities located throughout the United States. During the pilot program in 2014, residencies were completed in Denver and Miami.

2016-2017 marked the inaugural year of the full program. Several Dance/USA staff members spent two to three weeks based in their residency city, learning about the city’s dance ecosystem. Staff conducted interviews with local dancemakers and cultural leaders, observed and participated in events where possible, and explored local resources.  


Be part of the conversation! We welcome and encourage feedback on eJournal articles. You are encouraged to contribute any commentary designed to spark conversation, ask questions, and/or offer constructive criticism. Please note that comments will be reviewed by Dance/USA staff prior to appearing on the site. If necessary, comments may be edited or deleted to remove any inappropriate or highly inflammatory remarks.

We accept submissions on topics relevant to the field: advocacy, artistic issues, arts policy, community building, development, employment, engagement, touring, and other topics that deal with the business of dance. We cannot publish criticism, single-company season announcements, and single-company or single artist profiles. If you have a topic that you would like to see addressed, please contact journal@danceusa.org.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are the author's and do not reflect the opinions and views of Dance/USA.

Return to From the Green Room