For more than fifty years, dance companies have encouraged and supported the development of a high quality of dance throughout Tennessee. Through professional, civic, and educational affiliations, these ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and contemporary dance companies provide excellent opportunities for performance and education in dance to Tennessee's citizens and visitors. In the process, they play a valuable role in the state's rich artistic and cultural heritage.
Most of Tennessee's professional ballet companies originated as civic ballet associations and owe their development to dedicated volunteers whose financial and time commitments have promoted the companies to their present status. Examples include the Nashville Ballet (which became a professional company in 1986) and Ballet Memphis (1986). The City Ballet of Knoxville became a professional company in 1988, though it traces its roots from a partnership between the Knoxville Arts Council and the Cincinnati Ballet. In 1996 the City Ballet of Knoxville changed its partnership to the Tulsa Ballet. Through this innovative arrangement, partner cities share professional dancers, but each city retains a separate organizational and governing structure.
The repertoire of these professional companies includes classical, contemporary, and modern works. In addition to performance opportunities, these companies maintain affiliated schools to serve their respective communities. The school curricula are designed to meet the diverse interests of students, from a dance career, to physical exercise, or as an outlet for creative movement. Students may apprentice with professional companies and participate in dance performances. Although each company performs a dance series in their respective communities, they also tour regionally to promote cultural enrichment and make dance available to a wider range of Tennesseans.
Tennessee also has a strong commitment to modern and contemporary dance, as evidenced by the success of the Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble (which became a professional company in 1981), Tennessee Dance Theater (1986), and the Nashville Dance Project (1992). These companies present well-known modern works as well as new and innovative pieces, introducing audiences to original and thought-provoking works by local and guest artists. The Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble, founded by Dr. Dorothy Floyd, is the only professional modern dance company in the United States whose artists are children (ages ten to seventeen). The group has performed around the world and worked with choreographers from the nation's leading dance companies.
Civic companies provide opportunities for talented volunteer dancers to perform and improve their technique and offer the public a chance to learn about dance. A majority of these companies are ballet-based, but some emphasize modern, jazz, and contemporary dance. These civic association companies provide dance education for the participants and audience through formal concerts, lectures and demonstrations, and master classes. The civic companies continue to provide high quality dance experiences through the dedicated efforts of teachers, volunteers, and students. These companies have produced many students who perform professionally in major companies in the United States and Europe.
Over fifteen Tennessee dance companies are affiliated with public and private high schools and colleges. These affiliations provide a broad dance experience which allows students to study technique, develop and produce choreography, and perform a varied repertoire. In addition to performing for their individual schools, members of these companies have been chosen to tour in the United States and Europe. Terpsichord, the modern dance company of Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, founded in 1954 by Peggy Evans Thomas, is one of the oldest modern companies in Tennessee.