Summer Dance Festivals Across the Nation

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We all know the Big Apple is the dance capital of the U.S., if not the world. With unparalleled ballet companies like the American Ballet Theatre, contemporary legends like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and that little place called Broadway, world class dancers and choreographers flock to Manhattan – and bring audiences with them.

But the rest of the country is teeming with opportunities to see fantastic, innovative dance from companies looking to bring their art to a wider audience, especially in the summer. So skip the concrete jungle and venture to these small(er)-town dance destinations instead for an eclectic mix of big names and up-and-comers from all around the world.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA
June 23-August 29

Ticketed; some free outdoor performances

Located on a hilltop in an idyllic lakeside town in the Berkshires, Jacob’s Pillow is hallowed dance ground founded by modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn and tread upon by legends like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Twyla Tharp, Judith Jamison, and Merce Cunningham. The Festival is the longest running international dance festival in the country, and takes place in the Pillow’s tree-shaded complex of rustic theaters, studios and archives. Highlights from this year’s lineup include Thailand’s traditional/contemporary fusion Pichet Klunchun Dance Company, powerhouse American contemporary dancers Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk, Sweden’s Goteborg Ballet, U.S. favorite Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and a U.S. premiere work by Indian dance superstar Shantala Shivalingappa. Also be sure not to miss the all-male comedic ballet troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, or the many free outdoor performances by local schools and companies that take place on the Pillow’s Inside/Out stage. Stay in one of Becket’s cozy bed-and-breakfasts and hide away for a few days of incredible artistry.  

Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, Akron, OH
June 25-September 4

FREE, except for September Joffrey performance

The third annual festival in Akron (about 40 miles south of Cleveland) honors the legacy of Ohio Ballet founder Heinz Poll. The Ohio Ballet took its final curtain call in 2006, so the festival works to continue Poll’s mission to bring dance to the local community. All festival performances are free and open to the public, taking place in several local parks and even a cemetery. The contemporary lineup includes Doug Varone & Dancers, VERB Ballets, Neos Dance Theatre and Groundworks DanceTheater, all noted for their innovative choreography. A special September bonus show at the Blossom Music Center features the Joffrey Ballet with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Presents, Aspen, CO and Santa Fe, NM
July 16-August 25


Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is one of the US’s premiere contemporary ballet companies, commissioning and performing new works from the world’s best avant-garde ballet choreographers. ASFB tours extensively, but returns home every summer to host a star-studded lineup of companies. But “home” is a dual term – the company has ties to two cities with heaps of character. The Santa Fe summer season includes the Paul Taylor Dance Company on July 28 and ASFB August 6 and 7. The longer Aspen summer season features River North Chicago Dance Company on July 16 and 17, with a special hour-long afternoon show tailored to families with kids.  ASFB will also perform on July 23 and 24, and Paul Taylor on July 31. The season wraps up with the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theatre Company on August 25. Whether you travel to the mountains or the desert, it’s a great opportunity to see ASFB perform on its home turf where it makes a point to bring world class dance and cultural education to the local communities.

Celebrate Dance Festival, San Diego, CA
August 27-29


The San Diego area has an extensive array of dance offerings, and it is on display for three full days at the Celebrate Dance Festival. Seventy artists and groups present every genre from contemporary, ballet, jazz, and hip hop to swing, Egyptian dance, flamenco, and belly dance. All performances are free and take place in Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban park. In addition to performance venues, the palm tree-lined park has many museums, botanical gardens, a train ride, and, of course, the San Diego Zoo.

Vail International Dance Festival, Vail, CO
July 27-August 10


The beautiful mountainside town of Vail is known for its skiing; but in the summer for 15 days, dance takes over. Huge names dominate the program, including living tap legend Savion Glover, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and China’s dynamic contemporary group BeijingDance/LDTX.  The Festival also includes two International Evenings of Dance featuring guest stars from premier companies all over the world, as well as an evening dedicated to tango and one to urban and break dance.

Photo by shelgame7 from Intelligent Travel’s Flickr pool