I honestly didn’t know what to expect when Diana Movius, dancer and Artistic Director of Movius Contemporary Ballet, invited me to take a peek at this new space on 14th Street I've heard so much about.* I’d seen some photos on-line and probably had as much information on it as the rest of you, so I was sort of giddy with excitement over what I was about to walk into. And let me just say, I was not disappointed. In fact, saying I was in awe is putting it mildly.
But how exactly did she do it?
We’ve all daydreamed about having a space of our own and what it would mean for our work as artists (a rehearsal room available at the snap of your fingers, actually being able to complete a piece in less than half a year, dance parties at 2am, and generally just doing whatever you want). But after spending the afternoon with Diana, I noticed her referring less to what she, specifically, would gain and speaking more about fulfilling a greater communal need.
Her quest for space began in late 2011, motivated by her frustrations heading up her own company here in DC. Struggling to pin-down affordable, dance-appropriate space for rehearsals and performances here in the District is something we've all been defeated by at some point in time. She also felt she had exhausted a lot of her options for professional level classes and was looking for something more challenging. As many of us do when our frustrations simmer for too long, Diana decided to simply take matters into her own hands. She envisioned a space dedicated to artists that would be not just affordable to rent, but also available (even at odd-ball hours), with no strings attached or hierarchies to contend with.
By 2012 she had a few prospects and almost settled on a smaller basement space downtown, but when she came across an advertisement for a former dojo/loft space, she thought, “that sounds promising!”
Paul Emerson, of Company E, now on board to help oversee the construction of the space (he's a pro at this), stepped in to explain the history of the building.
“This was the historic Park Theater, which opened on July 1st, 1924," showing silent films, equipped with an accordion and a player piano. The original ceilings, sconces, and other architectural details are still in tact, which they plan to make use of with the renovations. “It will be fun to put a 21st century idea into, essentially, a 19th century space," Paul says.
Diana really took on the bulk of the initial planning, procuring a lease, building permits, etc, all on her own. “There is a lot of courage and vision here from Diana,” Paul says with a smile. “There is a remarkable amount of interest and curiosity from the professional community. Anyone who wants to do something meaningful artistically in this town, who is starved for space, is now starting to walk up these balcony stairs, which is really wonderful."
As Paul, Diana, and I continued to talk, we began stressing many of the same concerns for performing artists here in DC: a need for affordable space, but also a yearning for a greater sense of community, a sense of ownership, and feeling welcome in your chosen creative environment.
“Where is the space where you can gather up a lot of talent, and let it feed off of each other, and feel like it’s home as opposed to a place that you borrow?” Paul asks, articulating the driving force of the project.
The team also identifies that there is a lack of space in DC where artists can continue to build an audience, which is the purpose of the black box theater. It will be a convertible, multi-purpose proscenium performance space, complete with a light grid, wing space, and 120 retractable seats that can be manipulated to accommodate rehearsals, classes, or a performance.
All in all, Diana is trying to provide opportunities for dance artists and choreographers to hone their skills and develop more rigorous practices of creating work, without breaking the bank. My feeling is that a lack of space and resources in DC directly factors into the dance community’s inability to develop a reputation as a city with a killer dance scene, and this is a view Diana seems to share.
“I think this kind of new creative energy for dance in the city really needs to be tapped into and promoted, and there aren’t many venues doing that,” Diana laments. “Other venues host a lot of touring companies, and we need a place that can be more avant-garde and that doesn’t require a long, convoluted application process to put a work on stage. I’d like to see a space for everyone that isn’t, say, on the Dance Place program, or isn’t performing at the Kennedy Center, and in some way facilitate a discourse on that."
As we toured the loft, meandering from room to room, taking our shoes off to test the springiness of an old sprung floor, I was buzzed with excitement for Diana and for the future of this space. Convertible spaces, hard wood floors, marly floors, walls of mirrors and dance barres, dressing room facilities equipped with lockers and multiple showers (whoa!), and on and on. Although there are still piles of wood, layers of dust, and tarps lining the floors, it doesn’t take much to see her vision, and her vision is great, my friends. We’re talking three rehearsal rooms, one if which is 1500 square feet (seriously), in addition to the black box theater I spoke of earlier. The amount of openness, airiness, and natural light coming through the windows had a glimmering effect on the space (cue music)... It seemed almost magical... the possibilities seem endless...the land of opportunity...
The Dance Loft, even in its infancy, is proving to be a labor of love, but I really believe it will pay off. If you build it, they will come (for real, it just writes itself). Half of the space, two studios and an office, are scheduled to open by October 20th. While this makes my head spin, Diana’s team is determined. In fact, that afternoon the loft was buzzing with activity in hopes of meeting this deadline-- creative types, HVAC guys, builders, you name it. Everyone seems motivated towards this cause, and a sense of community radiates from every person and particle of dust in the space.
Even though the idea of a brand new space seems to be inciting enough to garner plenty of action they still need your help! (I put that in bold so you don’t miss it, see.) There is an indiegogo campaign happening until October 18th, so please visit the site and do what you can to help.
Want a better visual now? Well, here ya go.
* Psst, I have a secret to share with you all: I have little faith in my ability to navigate Rock Creek Parkway past Cathedral Avenue. This is shameful because I’ve lived in DC for too long to have a solid excuse for this. So when Diana agreed to meet at her space, located at 14th & Buchanan, and I discovered the metro was a little out of reach, I had two choices for getting there from my house in Southeast, DC. I could travel straight up through the city, or I could just head on up Beach Drive and cross my fingers I wouldn’t get dumped out in a part of town that left me directionally challenged and frustrated. I chose the later, and you know what? It was insanely easy. In a mere 20 minutes I was not only at my destination but also well parked. (I’m sure many of you are shaking your heads at my naiveté right now). Although I felt it important to point out that the Dance Loft on 14 is completely accessible, I am wasting your precious time so get back to the actual story.