Since its founding in 1977, the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre has championed the local dance community.

The 501(c)3 hosts dance events featuring some of the world’s premier companies, and offers educational and performance opportunities for the rhythmically gifted in Colorado Springs. Tens of thousands of people attend its shows and programs each year. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic sees CSDT facing unprecedented challenges.

“So much of our business model is about public gathering and getting people into large public spaces,” said Jordan McHenry, executive director of CSDT. “So that’s one of the big challenges of the coronavirus … for the long term. We’re really concerned about people being able to gather in this type of way.”

One such gathering has already been canceled — a performance by the co-choreography company FLOCK, which was scheduled for April 10-11 at the Ent Center for the Arts. 

“It being canceled prohibited thousands of dollars of revenue for our organization; it stopped some incredible international artists from coming here; but it also stopped about 100 dancers we had lined up from our local community from being able to perform,” McHenry said.

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In a typical year, CSDT hosts three or four performances, which account for about one-third of its annual revenue.

“The monetary impact is large,” McHenry said. “The loss of this project alone is about one-fifth of our total budget for the season.”

But instead of dwelling on its circumstances and loss of revenue, McHenry said CSDT is using its finite resources to help others in the Colorado Springs dance community now facing financial uncertainty.

The organization has been redirecting its funds from other public projects into its Dancer Relief Fund, financing relief efforts related to the pandemic. 

For instance, a scholarship program for young dancers had to be canceled because the dancers were unable to audition, so that money was redirected to a Tuition Gap Program providing tuition assistance for students at dance education institutions.

“There’s a financial need when you’re transitioning from an amateur to a professional and it’s really difficult to overcome this gap even in the best of times,” McHenry said. “So with this Tuition Gap Program … any local students who have been hurt financially by [COVID-19] who can’t pay their tuition expenses, there are scholarships available.”

McHenry said he’s concerned about how the pandemic might negatively impact dancers, as well as the studios and institutions that train them. 

“We have to make sure that … our local dance studios can remain open,” he said, “because this could really hurt future artists and that’s a concern of ours — that the disruption in training will lock out a portion of upcoming future dancers.”

With those concerns in mind, CSDT is hosting a virtual town hall for dance educators May 11 to discuss tactics for dealing with the pandemic. 

“It’s a collaborative way to get people thinking about the resilience of the arts and cultural sector,” McHenry said.

When the FLOCK performance was canceled, McHenry said CSDT used it as an opportunity to help bolster the relief fund.

“Our loyal patrons were given the opportunity to either get a refund for the ticket or reallocate that money to the Dancer Relief Fund,” McHenry said. “And we had a 100 percent rate of donation.”

With dance studios closed, McHenry said many have shifted to hosting their classes online using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, but have seen steep drops in attendance and subsequently, revenue.

“And then they’ve also incurred the Zoom fees,” McHenry said. “So we’re offering a Zoom reimbursement program for any dance studios that have retained their teachers and moved their programming online.”

Even after the worst of the pandemic has passed and life returns to something resembling normal, McHenry said the dance community will need to keep making adjustments.

For instance, he said, future performances likely will need to take place with fewer audience members to accommodate social distancing, which would mean less revenue for both the theaters that host performances and the dance organizations that run them. 

“But it’s created an [explosion] of opportunity,” McHenry said. “I know that sounds really optimistic, but I have never seen this community come together so brilliantly.”

COLORADO SPRINGS DANCE THEATRE
Founded: 1977
Employees: 1 (mostly volunteer)
Contact: 719-630-7434; csdance.org

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