JACKSON — For 10 days, Mississippi’s capital has taken center stage of the dance world.
The “Olympics of Dance,” held every four years at Thalia Mara Hall in downtown Jackson, is one of the world’s most prestigious dance events. This year, 99 competitors from 23 countries are vying for medals, cash, scholarships, awards and even jobs.
And during the two-week competition, which ends June 30, Mississippi will rake in at least $300,000 a day in tourism dollars.
“The saying ‘a high tide raises all boats’ is appropriate,” said Jeff Good, owner of Jackson eateries Broad Street Bakery and BRAVO!, which will host an IBC VIP party. “The IBC is definitely a high tide.”
“They’re eating up a storm,” said Stephen Gaylor, general manager of the Edison Walthall in downtown Jackson, referring to IBC execs, dancers, their families, coaches, trainers and host families. The Edison Walthall and Cabot Lodge are official host hotels for the event.
The 2002 event marks the seventh-annual USA IBC to be held in Jackson and the third time to be designated an American Bus Association (ABA) Top 100 Event.
“The USA IBC is truly a local economic asset,” said Peter J. Pantuso, ABA president and CEO. “There is no better way to jump-start tourism than to attract tour groups to a great event, such as the USA International Ballet Competition, and convince them to extend their stay in the city.”
Belhaven College is host of the IBC International Village, where competitors and dance students are housed throughout the competition. Each competitor, coach and jury member has a host family. This year, the U.S. has 44 competitors, Japan has 24 and China has six.
“During the two-week competition, probably 75% of our rooms are IBC and the rest represent business travelers,” said Gaylor. “All of our group business during that time comes from IBC.”
In 1998, the prestigious event generated an economic impact of $4.5 million for the state and $3.8 million of personal income for Mississippians. Nearly 40,000 visitors from 42 states and 10 foreign countries spent about half a million dollars on hotel rooms and more than $800,000 at local restaurants. Hundreds of volunteers representing Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., Canada and Greece worked with local volunteer teams.
The area economic impact of the IBC events in 1990 and 1994 increased 22% and 7%, respectively.
“The USA International Ballet Competition has been more successful in terms of competitors and visitors each year that it is held,” said Wanda Collier-Wilson of the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We certainly anticipate that this year’s competition will be even more successful than in 1998.”
Kathryn Stewart, director of public relations and marketing for the IBC, said projections have not yet been made regarding the economic impact for this year’s competition.
“We’ll have a better idea toward the end of the event,” she said.
CVB estimates show that the average overnight visitor to Jackson spends approximately $126 per day and the average “day visitor” spends an estimated $75 per day, said Collier-Wilson.
Tickets to IBC events have been a hot commodity. They sold out early to the opening ceremonies on Saturday, June 15, featuring 1998 IBC stars Adrienne Canterna and Rasta Thomas, Miami City Ballet, a parade of nations and the lighting of the flame. Ticket prices, which range from $6 to $7 for matinee, $11 to $14 for evening, $14 to $19 for competition, and up to $70 depending on performances and seat location, have been on sale since April 1.
“We experienced overwhelming success with the sale of our ticket packages,” said Sue Lobrano, executive director of the USA IBC.
The value of national and international media coverage from Argentina, Canada, England, France, Germany, Japan, Lebanon and South Korea, with exclusive features on the Arts and Entertainment network in 1998, for example, cannot be measured in dollars.
“The honor gives (Jackson) an important boost in visibility among professional tour planners,” said Pantuso.
• Live! reported: “No one does it quite like they do in Mississippi.”
• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Jackson “quite the little city that thought it could … and did, with all stops pulled.”
• Dancing Times called the USA IBC in Jackson “without a doubt, one of the best-organized ballet competitions in the entire world.”
Ancillary events at Thalia Mara Hall include a premiere costume exhibit, a dance photography show, and an exhibit that showcases Mississippi artists, including IBC poster artist Kennith Humphrey.
Next door, at the Mississippi Museum of Art, Passionate Observer: Eudora Welty Among Artists of the Thirties and Pieces and Strings: Mississippi Cultural Crossroads 15th Quilt Contest and Exhibition are on display until June 30, and Alfonso Ossorio: Costume Designs of the 1930s and 1940s for Ballet and Greek Tragedies, is on display until Sept. 1.
In the late 1970s, Thalia Mara helped Jackson land the first international ballet competition. In 1978, Mississippi Ballet International was created. Jackson has been an official home to the IBC competition every four years since 1982.
“Anyone working in professional dance around the globe knows about Jackson because they know about the IBC,” said Tim Hedgepeth, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission.