In 1930, a wealthy patroness of Martha Graham lent the choreographer her vacated apartment in a grand old Central Park South building slated for demolition. Until it was torn down, Graham and her dachshunds camped out in unaccustomed albeit unfurnished luxury: park views, high ceilings, and fireplaces. Although this moment of real estate largesse was a relatively minor one in Graham’s career—Bethsabee de Rothschild later bought her a building—it indicates the transitoriness of dance spaces in Manhattan’s ever changing landscape. (The Graham Center at 316 East 63rd Street was recently demolished to make way for an apartment block which will contain studios for the company.)
Dancers need space to work and money to get space. Given the current surge in the local real estate market—co-ops have broken the $1000-per-square-foot barrier—you’d think all dancing in the city would be confined to tabletops. This is not yet the case. Recently, Sal Anthony, the owner of several restaurants, opened his Movement Salon. A black belt in karate, he became interested in alternative bodywork. With his business acumen from the restaurant world and, he admits, a little give on the part of the landlord, Anthony got a 15-year lease at 190 Third Avenue, a former jazz club and restaurant.
The Salon offers low-cost classes and training sessions in various moving arts, and the ground floor also provides an unusual venue for a monthly performance series. Elaborately carved wood-paneled walls, stained glass, and a large gold-painted bronze of the goddess Flora look out—approvingly—over the performance space.
Hoping only to “break even” with the Salon, Anthony can afford to be space-patron for the arts. Dale Fournier, who operates FreeRange Arts, a wide, pillarless rehearsal and performance studio at 250 West 26th Street, has a different, and perhaps more typical, sort of patron—a spouse. Her banker husband supports the arts by supporting her, so she can run the studio, a “full-time job without full-time pay.” Other dancers and choreographers reap the benefits of his patronage through access to the space at very reasonable rates.
Emily Fraenkel has similar support. When she and her husband bought a loft in Chelsea in 1998, she laid a sprung maple floor in the living room for dancing—no shoes, please. Initially she intended only to live and rehearse there, but she and this writer soon started organizing informal showings of choreography. This year, in the spirit of early-20th-century salons, we launched a series of “Tea Dances,” informal Saturday afternoon performances followed by tea served with cookies and cucumber sandwiches.
A little seed money goes a long way. In 1993, Pat Cremins, Roseanne Spradlin, and Gloria McLean each received $1000 grants from the Field’s Independent Artist Challenge program, which they pooled with some other colleagues to open a new studio. They found an “unbelievably decrepit” loft at 127 Fulton Street that was nonetheless the biggest space they’d seen for the money. It had been used as dead storage for a hospital; boxes were piled high, the windows boarded up, the floors filthy and bowed. These conditions, the sketchiness of the neighborhood, the fact that the building was only partially occupied, and the lack of a reliable elevator (the studio is on the seventh floor) gave the three choreographers leverage in negotiating. Their pro bono lawyer got them a 10-year lease starting at about $1500 a month with incremental increases (it’s now about $1900) for well over 2000 square feet of raw space. And the landlord, the Collegiate Church Corporation, did all the cleanup and renovation. If you don’t mind huffing up the stairs, Squid, as the place is called, is a bright, clean studio, great for rehearsals and informal shows. The founders split the chores—cleaning, accounting, and administration—and divvy up rehearsal times.
Here are a few other rehearsal and performance spaces that continue to exist in Manhattan, despite the odds.
Battery Dance Company 380 Broadway, fifth floor 219-3910 Director Jonathan Hollander and his wife, Noelle Braynard, recently secured a lifetime lease for the 5400-square-foot loft where they’ve been living and working since 1984. Two large studios are available for rehearsals and showings at low rates.
Broome Corner Studio 425 Broome Street, fourth floor 966-7521 Georgia Corner has lived in and directed this space, formerly Ruth Currier’s studio, for the past 10 years. It features a bimonthly performance series which includes an artist-audience discussion and wine and cheese.
The Construction Company 10 East 18th Street, third floor 924-7882 This loft, the live/work space of Carolyn Lord since 1978, houses a small art gallery and a 60-seat theater. Lord’s “Dance Under Construction” series has four programs scheduled this spring.