Tag Archives: Dance Teacher

New Buildings for Dance

Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity. Photo by Lisa Lipovac.

Reprinted from Culturemap.

Update:  The story may have posted a while back but my interest in new buildings for dance continues.  The Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity  in the renovated 1914 Power House building on the Union Station campus, opens on August 22, 2011. With seven studios, including the main studio floor of the Ginger and Michael Frost Studio Theatre, the Bolender Center will serve as the destination for dance for the company, the school and the community as well.  I had the good fortune to spend some time with Kansas City Ballet’s Music Director Ramona Pansegrau at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this summer, who told me about their new dance digs. The building opened on Aug. 22, 2011.  I finally did get to write a story on Ballet Austin’s downtown choice in Dance Teacher.  I am also happy to report that I have not gotten lost in Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance in at least a week. The building is breaking in nicely and I still get a thrill when I drive by.

“When I get my career off the ground, I’m going to perform in this alley,” I told my brother some three decades ago. The pathetic part is that I wasn’t kidding.

That alley was eventually officially named “Dance Alley,” even though the venue was forced into an even more marginal area. During my dancing life, I performed in all manner of hovels, ramshackle spaces and places that the fire marshal deemed not fit for the public (fine for dancers though).

So you can just imagine my joy when I returned from summer vacation two years ago to find Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance already on its way to becoming Houston’s temple of dance.

Artists Jordan Reed and Katlyn Addison rehearse in the new Houston Ballet Center for Dance. Photo by Amitava Sarkar

New buildings and arts organizations make a touchy subject. Putting money into bricks and mortar has bankrupted many a theater company in this nation. But I was the one getting defensive if anyone gave me grief about Houston Ballet’s new digs. I would ask, “Have you ever been in C.C. Conner’s office when the men are jumping? Houston Ballet needed a new building to match the level of their national stature. Let’s get on it with.” And they did.

As a card carrying-citizen of Planet Houston dance, I take pride in that shiny new structure. My name is scribbled on the last steel beam, along with those of the staff, the company and members of the entire Houston Ballet community. I walked into the building with the company for the first time, and watched their very first plie. Company class may have been business as usual, yet I imagine the day stirred many a dancer to wonder, “I work here?”

Here’s a question: How do you know how society values you based on the buildings you work in? I set off on a pilgrimage to find out.

New York

I nearly fell over crossing 55th Street, when I first laid eyes on the Joan A. Weill Center for Dance, home of Alvin Ailey American Dance TheaterAiley II and The Ailey School in New York City. It’s that impressive. Large windows allow you to gaze on all kinds of dancing. Light and airy, if buildings could breath, this one does.

The in-house theater has perfect sight lines for dance, too. I like to pop in every time I’m in New York and feel in a “dance is in the dumps” mood. I perk right up as I imagine the some 5,000 students do who train yearly in the 77,000-square-foot facility. It’s a dance monument, if I have ever seen one.

Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, New York Photo by Michael Hart

I ventured over to Center For Performance Research, Brooklyn’s first L.E.E.D. Certified green building of its kind. The award-winning lab offers affordable space for performance and rehearsal along with innovative programing. Developed by Jonah Bokaer and John Jasperse, the 4,000-square-foot space is a mixed-use residential and commercial condominium that also houses a non-profit community arts facility on the ground floor. It’s one smart way of having a place to develop your work.

Bokaer and Jasperse, two seminal American dance makers, built the studio’s floor themselves. I had to think about that for a minute. You should too.

Ballet Austin's Butler Dance Education Center in downtown Austin Photo by Andrew Yates


I promised I would drive by Ballet Austin for a brief chat with their artistic director Stephen Mills last year when Dominic Walsh was featured in the troupe’s New American Talent program Two hours later, I was still there, entranced by the tale of how executive director Cookie Ruiz  granted Mills’ wish of finding a downtown location.

Today, the Butler Dance Education Center houses two schools, Ballet Austin’s Academy, The Butler Community School, along with the professional company and Ballet Austin II, who just happen to be performing Thang Dao’s Quiet Imprint  in Houston on Saturday at the Hobby Center. The building is glamorous, a total looker, just teaming with motion and so welcoming.

If a building could say, “Hey, come on in,” this one does. No wonder I didn’t want to leave — that and everyone’s warm Texas hospitality.

James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center at Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State & Others

There are buildings I have written about but have yet to visit, like ODC’s The Dance Commons in San Francisco, Mark Morris Dance Group’s Brooklyn-based The Dance CenterJoffrey Ballet’s Joffrey Tower in Chicago and Booker T. Washington’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas’ sleek new arts district. I’d like to see Atlanta Ballet’s snazzy new place as well.

My most recent visit was to Sam Houston State University‘s new James & Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center, which opened this past fall. I was there to visit classes, catch up with the faculty and review their inaugural concert in The Dance Gallery, built especially for dance. The building is graceful, there is no other way to explain it. A dramatic James Surls sculpture fills the atrium of this spacious facility, which encourages students of various disciplines to mix and mingle.

Dana E. Nicolay, associate dean and professor of dance, treated me to an in-depth tour. As a key person in the planning process, Nicolay could explain the thought behind every decision in elaborate detail. The pride he exuded was palpable. We lingered for a long while, watching classes through the expansive windows.

The experience of a new space is considerably different for those who endured the difficulties of the dance department’s former quarters than for freshmen, who have only known this elegant place.

Even though I already knew the answer to my question, I couldn’t resist asking. “Do you think it affects dancers’ self esteem to learn in a building like this?” The look in Nicolay’s eyes told me everything I needed to know.

His comments made me think about the Summer Intensive students who will enter Houston Ballet’s building soon and never know anything different. This will be their first impression of Houston Ballet.

If buildings could talk, this one is whispering, “You are valued.”

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Dancehunter interviews herself, again

Dancehunter: Again, why do you interview yourself once a year?

Dancehunter: Because someone has to, it might as well be me. It keeps me from talking about myself during interviews.

DH: What is Dancehunter?

DH: An imaginary feature movie where I, along with a motley crew, hunt for dance. Like a bounty hunter, except no one goes to jail. It’s my twitter handle and also a largely abandoned blog, which is used as a storage facility for stories I publish elsewhere.

DH: How do you describe yourself?

DH:  A dance writer with a weakness for theater, music,  film and football.  I should add that I was recently called a “fame whore.”

DH: You do endlessly hawk your stuff.

DH: And why shouldn’t I? I write so someone besides my mother will read it.

DH: Blogging?

DH: Having a blog is not a life sentence.  Sometimes, we finish out our urge to share, or get busy with paying deadlines.  Project blogs work well.  Set a realistic goal and stick to it.

DH: Artists blogging?

It’s not mandatory, or even advised if you don’t much like writing.  If it feels like a chore, don’t do it.  For long term projects, tours and such, a blog can be useful to document your travels or process. Wendy Perron addressed the subject of over-sharing artists, touching a nerve or two.

DH: The state of dance writing?

DH: We are like Conan O’Brien. You can’t kill us. We just keep coming back. There will always be people who choose to write about dance. Whether we will ever have a critical mass of people making a living writing about dance is doubtful. I am not sure we ever did.

DH: Why did you stop writing reviews?

DH: For a variety of reasons: There are other people to write them; I find the form a tad lifeless; I am not very good at it. All that said, read the New York Times piece on why we still need literary criticism. It feels relevant.

DH: Where can we find your writing?

DH: Culturemap, Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, mostly. Here and there in other publications.

DH: Where can we find your most unfiltered voice?

DH: Culturemap, but more and more in other places. I am starting to sound like myself everywhere. It’s a function of age.

DH: Aging?

DH: I don’t recommend it.

DH: What blogs do you read?

DH: Wendy Perron’s Dance Magazine blog, Arts Journal Blogs, Debra Jo Levine’s Arts Meme, Nichelle Strzepek’s  Dance Advantage, Andrew Sprung explains politics to me on xpostfactoid , to see all that I am missing in New York, Susan Yung’s Sunday Arts Blog on Thirteen New York Public Media,  my son’s blog, The Shape of Junk to Come for amusement and to see the gaps in my parenting. I skip about without much consistency. Mostly, I wait until someone sends me a link telling me to read something. I am of the obedient persuasion.

DH: So we are all front page editors now?

DH: It’s a “my body, my newspaper” world out there as so many people now have a service that aggregates pieces from their twitter lists.  I don’t miss the real front page that much. I’m not remotely nostalgic for print. Read Interviews with Notable Aggregaters in the Future for what happens when we take that too far.

DH: How can we get more arts writing?

DH: Hellishly simple, read more arts writing. Your eyeballs are being counted now, and so far, they don’t hold a candle to stories about Kim what’s her name.  Share arts stories you like. These days, numbers generate stories. Put your eyes where your desires are.

DH: Facebook?

DH:  The fact that we know more about one another is generally a good thing. I have a Facebook page, which will one day have every story I have ever written and will free up a lot of space in my house.  Please “like it.” I appreciate that Facebook is always working on its face.

DH: Most people don’t like that. Twitter?

DH: I like that Twitter makes us work on our sentences.  I have a Dance Magazine story coming out about how dancers and choreographers use Twitter. I started following every dancer I could find and still do.  It’s a marvelous way to get the pulse of a field. Twitter reminds me of dinner time when I was growing up, where everyone fought to be heard. It’s also a great way to keep up with life outside of Houston.

DH: What of Houston?

DH: It’s a love the city you are with situation. It’s impossible to keep up with my field here, not enough dance comes through here, or really ever did.  So I go see opera, classical music, theater, film and visual art.  Dance is always my home art form, though.  I look at all other art forms from a motion detector lens.

DH: You fussed like a maniac over Black Swan before you saw it, then fussed like a maniac afterward about how much you hated it. What gives?

DH:  All true. (I imagine I will be soon fussing over Emily Blunt’s performance with Cedar Lake in The Adjustment Bureau.) I had no problem with Black Swan’s depiction of the ballet world. Heavens, we don’t need to go Hollywood movies to find that out.  I did not like the movie because it was boring and oftentimes silly. Although, the scene where Barbara Hershey was about to throw the cake in the trash was priceless camp.  Also, Natalie Portman was terrific.  She got a boyfriend, a baby on the way, and most probably an Oscar out of the deal. And, yes, she almost looked like  a dancer.

DH: Sugarplum gate?

DH: Do we have to go there?

DH: Yes, we do. All dance people are required to chime in on the “too many sugar plums” fiasco. It’s a law.

DH: I wonder if Black Swan had not been in the air if there would have been such a fuss. Here’s what’s interesting to me in all of this: regular people now know how screwy ballet can be. Jenifer Ringer is a household name. People who never go to ballet were asking me what I thought about it.  Ballet seems nuts to them.  It’s as if the bubble burst into middle America’s living rooms.  Even Katie Couric had to blab about it.  What is also curious to me is how our brains are hard wired to prefer certain bodily proportions. I found myself attending to my own attention during a recent performance, which included larger than usual bodies.  Dancing, more than the body doing it, is always more engaging to me.

DH: Do you think the ballet buzz will generate bodies in seats?

DH: I  hope so, but its hard to predict. If you read Jenifer Homans’ book, she dissects the dance boom, and it’s not so simple, as it was tied to a confluence of events, both artistic and political.

DH: What did you think of Homans’ book Apollo’s Angels?

DH: I could not put it down. Darren Aronofsky should have read it before he made Black Swan. The history of ballet is like a Matt Damon spy movie, just terrifically exciting. The last chapter declaring ballet dead hit me hard.  History tells us if you want to wake something up, call it dead.  If ballet is dead, then I love a dead thing. Besides, vampires and zombies are all the rage.  I am less enthusiastic about that last chapter, but the rest is just a thrill fest. Ballet in light of the politics of the day makes great reading. I want Ken Burns to make a 10-part PBS series based on it.  Oh, and a coloring book.

DH: What about the politics of this day?

DH:  If it weren’t really happening it would make a good book.  It’s maddening mostly, impossible, depressing as ever.

DH: Obama?

DH: He had a strong close of 2010, thank god, because it was rough going before that. His speech on the tragedy in Tuscon will go down in history. Otherwise, Wall Street likes him.  I am reminded of Jim Hightower’s book, There’s nothing in the middle  of the road except dead armadillos. It’s a difficult situation.

DH: What were the most difficult stories you worked on in 2010?

DH:  A Dance Teacher story on the top ten dance injuries. No one could agree on a top ten.  A Dance Spirit story trying to define contemporary dance. The term really sets people off, mostly due to how So You Think You Can Dance uses it.

DH:  Dance on TV?

DH:  It’s here to stay. Let’s hope it gets better. I covered my own addiction to it.

DH: Most fun story?

DH:  It’s a story about ballet dancers married to normal guys in Pointe. There was lots of laughing on the phone. Writing the piece was better than therapy, very fun and hopeful. It’s a sweet piece, much like the one I did on the Secret Lives of Dancers.

DH: Most poetic?

DH:  A Culturemap essay on what is seen and what is hidden.

DH: Bubbly?

DH: My Dance Spirit Cover story on Lauren Froderman, a  bubbly dancer.

DH: Funniest?

DH: My deep cover investigation of young professional arts groups.

DH: Most rant-ish?

DH:  It’s a tie between my Art has Value story,  which I yelled more than wrote, and my Dance Civics 101: Being a good dance citizen story in From the Green Room, Dance USA’s e-journal.

DH: Painful?

DH: The Hurt Factor, about chronic pain, in Dance Magazine.

DH: Heartfelt?

DH: A story about Houston Ballet, Society for the Performing Arts and Houston Grand Opera’s outreach programs.

DH: Silliest?

DH: My reception diet story.

DH: Most in over your head?

DH: A story on Wordcamp, which is what led me to break up with blogger, a profile on Salman Rushdie, a story on Fashion and dance and my adventures in film at the Cinema Arts Festival.  Sadly, for me readers, I like being in over my head.

DH: Clunker?

DH: My story on Justice John Paul Stevens read like a book report.

DH: Story with the strangest start?

DH: A dance studio window with a sign reading “Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Drill Team, Kathak”  led to The Global Dance Studio in Dance Teacher.

DH: Dreaded year end lists and wrap ups.

DH: My year at Culturemap, A Year in Culture (dance),  A Year in Culture, (theater).

DH: Words that need to die?

DH: “Hot” and “edgy” are zombie words. They will not go away until they have completed their mission in this world.  “Curate” is on overuse probation and “buzzy” needs to meet me behind the barn.

DH: What most infuriates your editors?

DH: Making no sense gets them. My unwillingness to ask artists about what they do besides make art. I rarely have any interest in what they do outside of making art. Often, they have no interest in what they do outside of making art, so they make things up. I am more of an art person than a people person. It’s just me, others do this really well.

DH: Best dance moment of 2010?

DH: Chatting with Marge Champion, the Hollywood legend and model for Disney’s Snow White at Jacob’s Pillow.

Watch the magic below.

DH: How best to contact you?

nmwozny2@gmail.com, @dancehunter, 832-326-5234, at Caroline Collective on some days, where I co-work and when inspired, dust.

DH: Ideal job?

DH: Clicking “like” for a living.  Being a designated art witness.

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