DANCE in BC has a distinguished history, but until well into the second half of the 20th century the province's main contribution was as a breeding ground for talented performers who went on to pursue careers elsewhere. Edna Malone, from NELSON, was one of the first: she danced with the US modernist pioneers Ruth St Denis and Doris Humphrey following WWI, and performed with their company in VANCOUVER in 1919. In the 1930s June Roper, an immigrant teacher from Texas, sent more than 60 BC dancers to New York and Hollywood. Among them were 2 Vancouver teenagers, Rosemary Deveson and Patricia Meyers, who became, respectively, Natasha Sobinova and Alexandra Denisova with the Ballet Russe; Ian Gibson of VICTORIA and Duncan Noble and Robert Lindgren of Vancouver (all to New York's Ballet Theatre); and Peggy Middleton of Vancouver, who became renowned in Hollywood as Yvonne DE CARLO. The tradition was maintained by dancers such as Lois Smith, a founding star of the National Ballet of Canada (NBC) in 1951; Lynn Springbett of Port Moody, who as Lynn Seymour became a principal with the Royal Ballet of London; Reid Anderson, who made a distinguished career in Germany before he returned to Canada as artistic director of BALLET BC and later of the NBC; and most recently Chan Hon Goh, who left her father's Goh Ballet in Vancouver in the early 1990s to become a principal with the NBC.

While the first N American production of the classic ballet Coppelia was staged by an amateur troupe directed by Dorothy Wilson (and starring Ian Gibson) in Victoria in 1936, until very recently dancers with hopes of a professional future had no choice but to leave the province. Local audiences have always had a taste for visiting dance companies, but it was more difficult to root the art in the pioneer soil of the province. Several unsuccessful attempts were made during the 1940s, '50s and '60s to establish a resident professional ballet company in Vancouver, but funding was always uncertain and it was not until the creation of Ballet Horizons in 1970 that ballet began to find a footing. Ballet Horizons evolved into Pacific Ballet Theatre in 1973, run by Maria Lewis. Renamed Ballet BC in 1985, it has become one of the country's top 5 ballet companies. Under John Alleyne, who was appointed artistic director in 1992, it forged a distinctive creative identity that eschewed the big, expensive classics in favour of a repertoire of sleek, European-style modernity.

Modern dance established a footing in the late 1950s under 2 immigrant teachers from Bohemia, Gertrud and Magda Hanova. By the early 1960s, Norbert VESAK of PORT MOODY returned to BC after several years of study abroad to establish Western Dance Theatre (1970), and what followed was a golden decade for modern dance. Its spirit of revolution and freedom of artistic expression reflected the mood of optimism and experiment that permeated Canadian society at the time. Fuelled by new government funding and serious attention at the university level, modern dance became, during the late 1960s and 1970s, the darling of the arts world. SFU and to a lesser extent UBC turned out a generation of young choreographers eager to test their creative powers, and a number of leading BC modernist companies date from that period, among them the Karen JAMIESON Dance Co and Special Delivery Dance Theatre (now called Vancouver Moving Theatre). The 2 most influential companies in those years were directed by Paula ROSS, a former itinerant showgirl, who founded the Paula Ross Dancers in 1965, and Anna WYMAN, a European immigrant whose Anna Wyman Dance Theatre gave its first performance in 1971.

In the 1970s, dancers and choreographers began experimenting with new forms of organization and administration, as well as new forms of dance. One of the most influential groups, EDAM (Experimental Dance and Music), was founded in 1982 by Karen Jamieson with Peter Bingham, Peter Ryan, Lola MacLaughlin, Jennifer Mascall, Barbara Bourget, Jay Hirabayashi and Ahmed Hassan. With its own studio theatre at the WESTERN FRONT, EDAM has grown into an internationally respected company, known for its work in contact improvisation and collectivism. Peter Bingham took over as artistic director in 1989. EDAM has inspired a number of other acclaimed companies that have remained active, including Mascall Dance, Lola Dance and KOKORO DANCE (founded by Bourget and Hirabayashi). These activities and the establishment of the Vancouver Dance Centre, as well as the creation of 2 high-profile annual showcase venues—Judith MARCUSE's Kiss Project and the Firehall Arts Centre's Dancing on the Edge Festival—have provided the dance community with solidity and self-confidence. Though the Kiss Project was cancelled for lack of funding in 2001, the community was energized the same year by the opening of the Scotiabank Dance Centre building in downtown Vancouver.

By the start of the 21st century, dance in BC had begun to reflect the province's cultural diversity, with Indo-Canadian-inspired and Asian Canadian-led companies (such as Battery Opera, under the guidance of Lee Su-Feh and David McIntosh), flamenco and fusion dance, and other bold new works. In the 1990s as in the 1960s, modern independent dance companies in BC were known for developing unique forms in spite of minimal resources. Unlike ballet, modern dance has almost as many styles as it has practitioners. A host of choreographers experimenting with new forms of self-expression and regularly winning national awards have made BC one of the country's most exciting choreographic hotbeds, and BC dancers are among the most accomplished in Canada. For example, in 2005, Terrace-born dancer/choreographer Crystal Pite, a veteran of Ballet BC, won the $60,000 Alcan Award for the Performing Arts. While audiences are still sometimes sparse, BC dance at the turn of the millennium has reached a stage of maturity and achievement that belies its comparative youth.
by Max Wyman