The Story Behind Our Pay-What-You-Can Model

When Dance Waterloo was first formed, one of the major decisions we needed to make that had to do with funding … was figuring out the mechanics of profit from our performances.

Dance Waterloo premieres THEREFORE May 17-20, 2018. Photo: Heidi Walter

How much did we need and where was it all going to come from? We want to do site-specific work, but how could we charge for tickets? Did we even want to charge for tickets? What’s our mission? How do we put our mission into practice?

All of these questions, plus many more, led to the creation of our four tenets (community, collaboration, education, and public space) and a pay-what-you-can model of profit operation for programs and performances.

Why? We wanted our art to be approachable, physically approachable. Quite literally. We want a passersby to come up and ask what we’re doing. We want to move and create with our eyes open to where we’re creating and for whom we’re creating. We want our audience to consist of those you might not see in a theater for a dance performance.

We want our art to be approachable to the family that has young kids that can’t sit still with proper theater etiquette for 2 hours, to the people wanting to try something new but who don’t have a disposable income, even to adults that don’t want to pay for a show they won’t be able to sit through because they are active and restless and want to move around.

Lizzi Wood, dancer, surveying the site during technical rehearsals for THEREFORE. Photo: Jessica Gray

As we have developed our programming, making sure it aligns with our mission every step of the way, it became clearer and clearer that our programming needed to be pay-what-you-can in order to bring dance to as many of the hands and feet of our Austin community as possible.

We want to meet our audience halfway. We bring the art, you determine the experience. Come late, leave early, talk, be silent, sit, stand, walk around, take a break, take a picture.

Dance Waterloo’s pay-what-you-can performance, Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly (2017). Photo: Brian Fitzsimmons

There can only be something to gain from a pay-what-you-can performance. People are more likely to try something new if they have nothing to lose, regardless of if they could afford it or not. We don’t want our audience to be weighing the options if this experience is “worth it” before they’ve tasted it, but instead we want the unique perspective to be reflected in the fact that each individual gets to choose a value for the event representing their encounter as well as their financial situation.

Through a pay-what-you-can model we have been able to experience for ourselves the generosity of our community in supporting the arts – and supporting others to see art no matter what hesitation they might have – to cultivate our ever growing, vibrantly weird Austin.

Updated: You can see our upcoming pay-what-you-can performance, THEREFORE, May 17-20, 2018 at Epoch Coffee (Anderson) or visit our calendar for information on our pay-what-you-can and free programming for families, for dancers, and for self. 

By Rachael Hulse

Executive Director

Dance Waterloo

Posted: December 26, 2016

Updated: May 16, 2018


Filling Green Space with Art


Rendering courtesy of Waller Creek Conservancy

Earlier this year, Waller Creek Conservancy and The Contemporary Austin joined together on a one-of-a-kind public art initiative to bring the internationally-renowned known artist, Orly Genger, to downtown Austin to create Hurlyburly––the site for our upcoming performance Panorama Playground.

The Conservancy is working to restore a blighted Waller Creek in downtown Austin and create authentic places for Austinites to experience parks, green space, and art. We sat down with the Conservancy’s Communications Manager, Dana Efthim, to learn more about their mission and the parks district they are working to restore.

What is Waller Creek?

Waller Creek is a waterway running in the heart of downtown Austin that is often forgotten as many Austinites don’t even know it’s here. But the Conservancy is working to change that. We are focused to restoring and revitalizing a mile-and-a-half stretch of Waller Creek, from 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake, into an ecologically sustainable waterway. The creek connects to multiple park spaces, Waterloo and Palm Park, that are being renovated into places for education and free programming.

How and why was Waller Creek Conservancy formed?

The Conservancy is a 501(c)3 founded in 2010 by three visionary leaders––Melba Whatley, Tom Meredith, and Melanie Barnes––in an innovative public-private partnership with the City of Austin.  Our goal is to bring awareness to the natural beauty, public gathering spaces, and restored vitality of Austin’s Waller Creek.

Why is it important for the community to care about Waller Creek?

Waller Creek is a great place for the people of Austin to come and enjoy green space. Our mission is to create a restored creek that will renew the natural environment, promote play, health and wellness, economic vitality, and mobility.  We also aim to engage the community through education, cultural events, and the arts.

Waller Creek Conservancy

Rendering courtesy of Waller Creek Conservancy

What is the Conservancy’s vision for Waller Creek? What are you currently doing to achieve this vision?

Once complete, the Waller Creek parks district will include more than 37 acres of newly designed and connected urban parks and public space, along with more than three miles of revitalized hike and bike trails. Neighbors and community members have already been helping to shape the park spaces through community engagement activities and programs in the parks.

What kind of opportunities does the community have to get more involved with Waller Creek Conservancy?

There are so many ways to get involved! Opportunities to volunteer span from creek clean-ups to family and kids’ programming. We also have a young leaders group, GenWaller, focused on advocating and bringing awareness about the Conservancy’s mission and the project. We encourage the community to check out our free programs and sign-up at We are a non-profit, so we rely on funding from people within the community–– every dollar helps!

Why is the Waller Creek Conservancy excited about for the premiere of Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly?

As an interactive installation, Orly Genger’s Hurlyburly has welcomed Austinites and visitors to experience art along Waller Creek in such a unique way. The installation invites play and movement and this combination of art, music, and dance will ignite such a dynamic evening.  We can’t wait!  We also look forward to Panorama Playground bringing new energy and interest to Waller Creek.

Rending courtesy of Waller Creek Conservancy

Rending courtesy of Waller Creek Conservancy

Dance Waterloo is extremely thankful to partner with such an amazing Austin initiative.  We thank Waller Creek Conservancy for their efforts in cultivating an environment that inspires Austinites to always show love to our beautiful planet. To find out more about Waller Creek Conservancy and their new parks district, visit


And don’t forget to check out Dance Waterloo’s Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly on December 3 & 4.


By Ally Wheeler

Communications Assistant

Dance Waterloo

November 22, 2016

A Familiar Face: An Interview with Jessica Gray


National Water Dance Day, Dance Waterloo, 2016

Jessica Gray has been dancing with us for two years now. We are thrilled to create our second artistic work, Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly in just a few short weeks! We often refer to her as the Dance Waterloo “poster child”, as we have captured a ton of great photos of her throughout the past two years. Jess, originally from Rowlett, Texas, has been dancing for as long as she could walk. She attended The University of Texas at Austin where she received a BFA in Dance and is now pursuing a career in veterinary care and medicine. She plans to return to school in the near future to further her education and achieve another lifelong dream of working with animals. Jess has three older siblings, Jennifer, Chris and Edward, as well as two amazing, supportive parents, Jeannette and Brad. We asked Jessica a few questions to learn even more about this Dance Waterloo vet and her artistic mind.

What has been your favorite experience or memory with Dance Waterloo within the past two years? 

In my two years of working with Dance Waterloo, my favorite experiences has been the rehearsals. A rehearsal with Morgan or Rachael leaves me feeling enlightened, more aware, and often with a different perspective. They make dancing so much more than just movement. Their rehearsals are my playtime and my time to heal.

You’ve been in Austin for quite a while now! What made you choose to stay here post-grad? What do you love about dance in Austin?

I decided to stay in Austin post-grad because I wanted to stay in my home state of Texas, but also to be in a place that fosters an artistic point of view. Austin is a place where dreams are alive and thriving and creativity abounds – what’s not enticing about that?

What do you like to do in your free time? 

I like to write, read kooky novels, and watch cult classic films and TV shows. I also love to rock climb, to go out with my friends, and play and cuddle with my dog, Bear. Bear is my world, and my only fur-baby when I’m not helping and caring for other people’s pets.

Who has been a big support to you as you have grown as an artist?

My best friends, Maggie, Hillary, and Jennifer, have always been a big support system for me when it comes to growth as an artist and as a human being. However, my parents have always been my biggest supporters on and off-stage. My dad’s favorite memory of me growing up is driving to dance competitions and playing The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy, to get hyped for the long day ahead. It always helped calm the jitters long enough to get ready for the solo competitions.

You are currently in rehearsals with Dance Waterloo for Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly. What has this experience been like for you? What’s difficult? What’s exciting? 

Thus far, the rehearsal process for Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly has been both exciting and unnerving all at the same time. It’s a good kind of unnerving, keeping us all hyper aware and ready for anything. The studio rehearsals were a breeze, but working at the site, on the painted, recycled lobster rope, holds many colorful obstacles to overcome. I don’t realize how challenging it is until I am there trying to work through movement, and once we are done it feels like a dream, having accomplished something that felt so difficult in the moment. And then being told afterwards by Morgan or Rachael that whatever I’m doing looks exceptional is sometimes surprising but so exciting. It is very fulfilling to beat the obstacles, to take on new challenges each time and come out on top – literally, standing on little Hurlyburly hills.


Rehearsals for Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly, Dance Waterloo, 2016

Why do you think people should come see Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly

This performance is going to be cathartic, reminiscent of easier times. The piece is beautifully free and chaotic. It’s one of the most physically demanding sites I’ve ever worked on and it will be so rewarding to take some time to play like a child with friends and family. Plus, as an audience member, you get the option to choose your own soundscape to experience the piece. WHAT? That’s crazy! I would love to be an audience member myself just to experience that portion of the project. I know this is going to be one hell of a performance!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Jess! Dance Waterloo is blessed to know and have the privilege to work with such an amazing dancer and human. We hope our journey together continues! In the mean time, we will be at Hurlyburly, experimenting and crafting a one of a kind performance, Panorama Playground. You can now reserve your multi-channel headsets for this performance. We’ll see you there, December 3 & 4.


Rehearsals for Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly, Dance Waterloo, 2016

Ally Wheeler

Communications Assistant

Dance Waterloo

October 31, 2016


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