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Orpheum Theatre exterior

Jack Link's Legend Lounge

On display now

Dance on Hennepin

Now through October 25

Dance is a dynamic component of the history of our Theatre District. Prior to the mid-19th century, Native tribes expressed both ritual and recreational forms of dance on the islands and shores of Ojibwa Misi-Sipi. Post-settlement, many dance halls, dance schools, vaudeville acts and later discotheques would fill the 20th-century Hennepin Avenue corridor.

The mid-20th century witnessed the rise of many seminal, professional and contemporary dance artists and companies, many of which remain active today and are represented on our walls in this exhibition. The Wyman Building, the old Shubert Theater renovated into the Cowles Center and the old Masonic Temple (now Hennepin Center for the Arts) have long been hubs for the formation of exciting experimental and traditional dance companies. Last year, and further up the avenue, the Walker Art Center celebrated 50 years of their Choreographers’ Evening that is still going strong and continues every Thanksgiving weekend.

Opening in 2011 through a partnership with Artspace and utilizing both the Masonic Temple building and the famed Shubert Theater that had been moved to Hennepin Avenue years prior, The Cowles Center brought dance studios, education and performance into the Theatre District limelight. The news of the recent closure of The Cowles Center as of April 1, 2024, has sent a shockwave through the dance community. Some believe that the overall project was probably not specifically sustainable, and most believe that the dance community will shift and realign itself as it has before.

While the closure of The Cowles Center may have been a challenging development for the local dance community, it also presents an opportunity for reflection, collaboration and innovation. Moving forward, it is essential for stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue, explore sustainable funding models and prioritize the preservation and advancement of dance within the vibrant history of the Theatre District. By learning from past experiences and embracing change, the community can work towards a new future for dance on Hennepin Avenue. We hope this exhibit will enlighten you and celebrate the many dance companies represented, while shining a light on their tremendous work and the future of dance in our Theatre District further into the 21st century.

Very special thanks and recognition to Deborah Ultan and Mollierae Miller at the UMN Andersen Library Performing Arts Archive for their support, contributions and co-curation with this exhibit.

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