December has traditionally been a big month for dance in these parts. But with the loss of Cleveland San Jose Ballet and its version of "The Nutcracker," there may be some psychic headroom left to explore Cleveland's other dance strengths: its contemporary dance companies, professional ethnic dance presentations and hip-hop events.
Why Cleveland? Dancers need space, and Cleveland has vacant space to spare. With warehouse and studio space aplenty, combined with our famously low cost of living, our town is even attracting dancers from out of town — VERB Ballets artistic director Hernando Cortez recently moved here from New York City.
I sat on a foundation grant panel in St. Paul, Minn., and saw the same thing. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, entire dance companies were moving from the coasts to vie for generous arts funding, and the region has developed into a center for contemporary dance. The same thing may be happening here. Artists and entrepreneurs will move into a city if economic conditions and opportunities present themselves, and our stars seem to be aligning.
Cleveland Public Theatre's ongoing DanceWorks program features the best and most interesting contemporary area dance companies. Social dancing has come of age again, with plenty of new late-night dance clubs. For the shy, salsa lessons are increasingly available in clubs and bars. And hip-hop culture thrives in Cleveland, from poetry slams and spoken-word throwdowns to B-Boy dance demonstrations, graffiti exhibits and rap battles.
DanceWorks '05 Lyrical, evocative and invigorating, the festival of contemporary dance returns to Cleveland Public Theatre with a holiday series that transforms the winter weather into an afterthought. Ashland's Neos Dance Theatre debuts at CPT with its classically trained bodies Dec. 3 through 5, while Clevelander Sarah Morrison's MorrisonDance brings its cross-disciplinary experimentation Dec. 10 through 12. Call (216) 631-2727. Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., www.cptonline.org
Spitboxing Reloaded With a different theme every night, you can't go wrong at Lakewood's Hi-Fi Club. Wednesdays are Heavy Metal Karaoke; Thursdays bring local rock celebrities raiding their LP collections for "Rock and Roll Over Night." Check out the hip-hop action every Tuesday, hosted by MC Suave Gotti, with hip-hop dance music and B-Boy breakdancers. Stick around for the Spitboxing competition, rap battles judged by the audience. 11729 Detroit Ave. at West 117th Street, (216) 651-3600, www.illstylerockers.net
A Ballroom with Flair Surprisingly, the art of the Argentine tango is increasingly popular in Cleveland, with numerous venues for your dancing pleasure. Swing to big-band sounds and the ever-saucy salsa, and feel the excitement of this rhythmical dance on Dec. 22 starting at 7 p.m. in Ohio City. Organized by the Aubrey Wertheim Institute, both gays and straights are encouraged to participate. All About Dancin' Ballroom Studio, 2115 Freeman Ave., between Columbus Avenue and West 20th Street. Register at www.lgcsc.org/awi/awiindex.html.