A Building Boom for Local Dance, but Is The Barre Set Too High?

Thinking big: Fabian Barnes outside his 5 million dollar baby.
Thinking big: Fabian Barnes outside his 5 million dollar baby. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 29, 2006

It looms in the distance as you head out of the Columbia Heights Metro station: the Dance Institute of Washington, a $5 million monument to an art form and an era. Forgive it for sticking out so baldly among the construction sites in a part of town once scarred by the 1968 riots. With its sharp midtown-Manhattan angles, this gleaming glass-and-steel ballet school is certainly the most stylish element of the stretch of 14th Street NW.

It is also the leading edge of a revamping of the local dance community, an expansion of studio and performance spaces taking root amid a real estate boom that's transforming Washington -- and transforming the arts scene. The theater community is already undergoing a facelift, with several new facilities open or under construction. Dance leaders may have come late to the party, with some spaces still in the planning stages, but starting this season, and especially in years to come, audiences will see fundamental changes.

Here's a glimpse of the dancegoer's future: There will be spanking-new theaters with airy foyers and comfy seating. Some will have cafes and shops in the lobby. Hand-in-hand with the new stages will come new studio space. If you're a dance student, or tempted to become one, there will be a head-spinning array of schools, including the Dance Institute, to choose from. Those staples of the dance studio of yore -- bad flooring, low ceilings and pillars in the middle of the floor -- will be a thing of the past, dance professionals predict.

In addition to the Dance Institute, consider these developments:

· With a grant from the D.C. government, Dance Place, the area's busiest dance presenter, is studying whether to tear down its converted garage in Brookland and replace it with a five-story condominium building with a theater, studio space and an eatery.

· CityDance Ensemble, a small performing troupe, is helping to renovate the old Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square downtown and plans to open a 150-seat dance stage there in February -- expanding upon its studios in North Bethesda's Music Center at Strathmore.

· Joy of Motion Dance Studios, with locations in Bethesda, Friendship Heights and Dupont Circle, has opened a fourth site with three studios in the new Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.

· In Mount Rainier, Joe's Movement Emporium has purchased and renovated a warehouse with studio and performance space that nearly triples its current size, opening next month.

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