National Museum of Dance

Saratoga Springs, New York, USA

Quick Review

I regularly drive through Saratoga Springs, New York on my way from Montreal to the major cities of the US East Coast.  It’s a perfect stopping point on the trip, about 2.5 hours from the Canadian border, when I usually feel the need for a break.

For many years, I’ve noticed the sign for the National Museum of Dance but always chose to take my break at a different exit.  But last summer, I finally stopped at the museum.

The museum is housed in a heritage building, the former spa at Saratoga Springs.

The centerpiece of its collection is the collection of the American Ballet Theater. That is supplemented by special exhibitions on various aspects of dance, such as an exhibition on toe shoes used by ballerinas and an exhibition on famous choreographers.

Strengths of the museum include its in-depth collection and excellent documentation of the American Ballet Theater, starting with its roots in earlier theater companies and its rise to national and international prominence. The exhibition contains costumes and other properties used in the performances, original programs, the stories of leaders in the theater and, when feasible, videos of actual performances.

Similarly, the special exhibition, En Pointe! About toe shoes that was on display during my visit thoroughly addressed the topic of toe shoes.  It included a visual demonstration of how cobblers make toe shoes, the challenges of getting toe shoes to fit individual performers and brief stories of the major manufacturers of toe shoes.

Another special exhibition, Tails and Terpischore, was geared towards children and links movement in animals to the movement in dance. I paid only cursory attention to this exhibition but thought it would probably engage children well.

In addition, because the museum is housed in a heritage building, a corridor off of the toe shoe exhibition provided unrelated exhibition on the history of the building, the role of spas in promoting health, and included restored rooms so visitors could imagine the building during its days as a spa where visitors sought the healing powers of the springs of Saratoga.

The primary weakness of the museum is that it is really just a museum about ballet, not a museum of dance. Other than a temporary photographic exhibition on Eleo Pamare, all of the major exhibitions focused on ballet.

Furthermore, it lacked a permanent exhibition that would provide a more encyclopedic introduction to dance—which would be especially useful now that there are shows on TV that popularize dance to mass audiences and a museum could build on that familiarity and deepen interest in, and knowledge of, all forms of dance.

The museum also assumes that visitors have a background in dance, not an appropriate assumption for an institution that serves the general public.  The most significant example of this was in the toe shoe exhibition.  Despite the extensive detail about the design and construction of toe shoes, the exhibition never explains what toe shows are or the role they play in dance.  Visitors must infer this and my own inference is incomplete.

The well-intentioned volunteer staffing the entrance also asked me if I was eligible for the 65-plus admission rate.  Although I’m all for a discount, I am not even 55 yet and definitely don’t look that old.  I have to be honest; I was more offended than grateful.

In terms of insights gained, I feel I have a better understanding of the American Ballet Theater and how its rise paralleled the rise of the US as a cultural leader among nations.  I feel, too, that I have a greater appreciation for the role of shoes in ballet. But I do not feel that I have a stronger understanding of “dance.

Fast Facts about the MuseumType of Museum: Specialty (with an arts focus).

Highlights of the Permanent Collection:

  • Collections of the American Ballet Theater
  • Collections about ballet.
  • Exhibition about the building in which the museum is housed and its role as a health spa a century or so ago.

Notes about Special Exhibitions: Provide some insights into other types of dance.

Special Amenities:

  • Free parking.
  • Gift shop.

Admission Discounts: Senior rates.

Issues to Consider When Visiting: Leave about an hour to visit the museum.

Website: http://www.dancemuseum.org

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