Baba Melvin Deal

It is often repeated that the best place to start is the beginning, but this will be a non-linear exploration. I’ll start with my personal revelation, and follow the threads from there. I’m going to leave a lot of really intense material just a half-thought away from the content here. The African Heritage Dancers and Drummers (AHDD) start in 1959, and those times (search for Melvin Deal on the 1966-1976 map), as today, are complicated.

On the passing of Baba Melvin Deal (Kwame Omobowale Ochunremi Alibi Agyei), obituaries make note of his legacy in Washington, DC, and his connections to Howard University, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and DanceAfrica Festival. They recognize his recent role as a Grand Marshal for the 2021 Martin Luther King Holiday Parade in Washington DC. These are real, true, and important, but represent only a tiny scratch in the surface of this man’s life. I don’t think it’s so important to recognize that he was a Grand Marshal for a parade – it’s much more important to understand why he was a Grand Marshal for a parade.

I offer at least one reason – Melvin Deal brought dance, and importantly, African dance, to tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of kids.

This post will, I hope, go some distance toward that understanding. It is a tiny, tiny, thing, but I will attempt to gather here, not just words about Melvin Deal, but some context that hints just a bit more deeply at his amazing, half-century-long impact on dance, not just in and around Washington, DC, but deeply and seriously in Baltimore.

Melvin Deal came to my attention while I was digging through archives and libraries chasing the history of dance in and around Baltimore. My experience with Melvin Deal is entirely remote – a [literally] dusty, tedious, and distinctly un-dance-worthy desk experience. His company, the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, appeared occasionally in Baltimore area news coverage, but only occasionally. In the hundreds of pages of notes gathered over years of reading, I found about a half-page worth of references to this company. Media coverage of dance is bad even in the best of times, and this is no exception. Even dance-focused DC coverage mentions this man and his company only once, and then only in the context of a personal year-in-retrospect and bringing “Melvin Deal and his African Heritage Drummers and Dancers to a Kennedy Center stage for the first time.” – which is incorrect. AHDD graced the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater stage under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society in 1980, and that was a big deal. Even in 1980, George Jackson of the Washington Post opens his article with “The rarest of events took place last night — a home-grown company danced at Kennedy Center.”

Under-recognized and under-appreciated for a half century, I cannot pretend to do this story justice, but I will offer what I have gathered. There is only a tiny footprint in media and online (as of this writing, just 23 subscribers for their YouTube channel). I hope it is correct, but if you notice anything I get wrong, please do let me know. I tried, unsuccessfully, to reach Melvin Deal in late 2019. This is from the perspective of dance in and around Baltimore – the work I’ve done and notes gathered mostly for a different purpose. DC is a different world and outside the scope of my original efforts.

The Melvin Deal Dancers and Drummers

The earliest Baltimore news item I found came from the Afro-American (usually just The Afro), August 10, 1968. In less than a dozen paragraphs devoted to the first Black Arts Festival, under the auspices of the S.O.U.L. (Society Of United Liberators) School, the Melvin Deal Dancers and Drummers join Leroi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), and Frankie and the Spindels, among others for performances at Harlem Park Junior High School.

Like many dance companies, AHDD included the founder’s name in it’s name – it takes some level of ego to launch a dance company into the world, and with that usually comes some expectation of recognition. I don’t know why (this is someone else’s story to tell), but it only took a few years to drop Mevlin’s name from the company name (usually). Maybe the change recognizes something bigger than an individual, or a modest confidence. In any case, a new company name appears…

The New Thing African Heritage Dancers and Drummers

A year later, on June 21, 1969 the apparently recently-renamed New Thing Heritage Dancers and Drummers grace cover of the Afro-American with three photographs of dancers (Larry Richmond, Dennis Thompson, and Melvin Deal) under the banner headline “The New Thing Heritage Dancers.” Why “The New Thing” in the title? From The Afro, “they are an integral art of the cultural program at the New Thing Art and Architecture Center” (Founded in 1966 by Topper Carew).

Though the story is relatively light on text, it offers important details. “…formed four years ago by Howard University students,” “There are 30 young people in the company. They range in age from 9-25,” and “In their repertoire are 12 West African dances.” We also learn here that “the Baltimore community has recently been treated to several appearances of the group.”

… and that’s just about it. The Afro mentions the company a few other times, but generally as correspondence coverage from Washington, DC. The company name varies a bit from article to article – before settling in to “African Heritage Dancers and Drummers.”

African Heritage Dancers and Drummers

The company’s early performances in Baltimore go largely unnoticed in the news, with occasional mentions of festival (Baltimore Arts Festival in 1972, Preakness Festival in 1972, Odunde Festival in 1980, Artscape in 1983) and college (Harford Community College in 1971, Community College of Baltimore in 1973) performances. In 1979, the company engages at Baltimore Theatre Project for the first time. They also feature in a couple benefit events – for the African Heritage Center in 1977, and for themselves in 1982. By all appearances, this is a DC-based company that occasionally visits Baltimore – a footnote in Baltimore’s dance history at best.

Echoing that footnote status, Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History (2008) with more than 1500 pages spanning three volumes mentions Melvin Deal in a section on “Guinea Dance” – but just one sentence: “Melvin Deal’s African Heritage Dancers and Drummers is another example of a generation that has taught youth since the early 1960s.”

But the company is born in an era of deep social and political activity – and its members are deeply committed to their causes.

Not Just a Footnote

It is their 1982 Baltimore engagement at Dunbar Performing Arts Center (Dunbar High School) that opens a whole new perspective on Melvin Deal in Baltimore. The performance is a fundraiser for the company itself – an effort to fund the company’s move to “the Lansburg’s Art Center in Washington.” I believe this is in the 700 block of E Street Northwest (that particular project is a whole story unto itself). But the Baltimore Sun covers this, and brings two quotes from Melvin Deal…

They decided to present this benefit here, Mr. Deal says, because they consider the company “as much a Baltimore group as a D.C. group – half of the company lives in Baltimore.”

Then too, the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers have been performing in Baltimore under the auspices of the Cultural Enrichment Program since 1967. According to Mr. Deal, the group has given hundreds of concerts, dancing “in every school in Baltimore” – and often, he says, having to make up some of the costs out of their own pockets.

Deborah Papier, Baltimore Sun, March 26, 1982, page B6

This fundamentally changes everything.

Even if “every” school is an exaggeration… This company directly impacted thousands – more likely, tens of thousands – of children in Baltimore. Quietly, persistently, and with deep commitment, Melvin Deal brought [his version of…] African dance to Baltimore. More importantly, to Baltimore’s children.

One of the most revolutionary things Mr. Deal has done is to create a dance school where over 100 children and teenagers take classes for free (the 40 adult students pay for their lessons). Being unable to afford dance classes as a child himself, Mr. Deal resolved at that time to start an institution some day that would be open to any young person who wanted to dance.

Deborah Papier, Baltimore Sun, March 26, 1982, page B6

The African Heritage Dancers and Drummers website is long gone (it seems to have gone offline sometime during 2009). Before it disappeared, this was Melvin Deal’s Biography –

Melvin Deal
Founding Director, African Heritage Dancers & Drummers

The founding Executive Artistic Director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers is, Mr. Melvin Deal, a veteran artist of more than forty years. Mr. Deal, has worked tirelessly in researching African cultural manifestations to be used in the building of self-esteem and addressing the presence of violence, delinquency and dysfunctional lifestyles and abuse in African-American communities.

An accomplished dancer, musician, choreographer, researcher and director, Mr. Deal is a graduate of Howard University, with a BA degree in Fine Arts & Education. Mr. Deal has studied at Ghana University, University of Nigeria at Ibadan and at numerous cultural institutions nationally and abroad in the African Diaspora.

The recipient of many prestigious awards, among which includes: The Washington’s “Living Legends” Award, 1980, “Washingtonian of the Year, 1981”, “Mayor’s Arts Award, 1981”, “Baltimore’s Great Blacks In Wax Award”, 1995, “Philadelphia’s CODUND’ Award,” 1995 and many others.

Mr. Deal performs and teaches regularly in the African Heritage Dance Center and in many elementary & secondary school systems and conducts classes, seminars, master classes and lecture demonstrations for colleges, universities and special cultural input to motivational programs such as “Robins Research Institute,” National Association of Social Workers, National Association of Black Psychologist, Boys & Girl Scouts of America, Office of Criminal Justice and many others.

Mr. Deal is a consummate “performance artist,” focusing his revealing, magically colorful and insightful presentations on “AIDS” issues of, healing, prevention and revelation.

A community artist of uncommon perseverance, Mr. Deal remains true to his calling.

African Heritage Dancers and Drummers website, November, 2008. [Lightly edited for punctuation].

For more on Baba Melvin Deal (including some photos), a collection of notes and links, some of which may be paywalled, but all work as of this writing –

The drum is the centerpiece that connects the spiritual world and physical world that allows the voice of God to speak to the people

Baba Melvin Deal, MLK Holiday DC

Ballet Nocturne – Walk of Haunts

Ballet Nocturne, founded by Joelle Szychowski “to make a space for dancers who do not have a space now” (an issue I’ve been chasing for years now…) has a thing for food.

More importantly, they are doing some Halloween work this weekend. October 23 (rain date October 30), 8-10pm at Wishing Star Farm (this is about 15 miles northeast of Baltimore). You’ll need to be able to navigate grass and dirt. Tickets are $25 (discounts for groups), and they promise candy.

A ghost has escaped our haunted grounds and we need help bringing them back! Walk through a terrifying path lit only by your flashlight and deduce which of the spooky ghosts is missing so they can be summoned back… if you dare!

Prepare to jump out of your shoes as you shine your light on a ghost where you least expect it, and watch their balletic dance to solve the mystery.


New Forum Features

Now testing new forum features here at In the Dancer’s Studio.

The old job-posting system was tedious and labor intensive and annoying… but an important thing for a dance economy. Now you can post your own opportunities in the Opportunities forum. This is open to any opportunities – jobs, fellowships, grants…

For other dance-related discussion, there’s the DAB [Dance Around Baltimore] forum. Got something on your mind? Something that needs attention?

I do realize this is all very old-school and quaint – but it’s also specific to dance and the [greater-]greater-Baltimore region. No ads, no tracking, no algorithms – just you, your thoughts, and your community.

Both are linked in the main menu (upper-right in this design), and available as soon as you register. Registration is required, but it’s open and easy, and we’ll try to keep it that way until it gets abused.

Pardon the dust while we re-arrange the site a bit around the new features.

Baltimore Black Dance Collective / Black Choreographer’s Festival October 15 & 16, 2021 [fundraiser]

Just a quick note to direct a small bit of your attention (no one asked me to do this).

The parent organization is Baltimore Black Dance Collective – leadership of Camille Weanquoi, Kutia Jawara, and Ronderrick Mitchell. There’s been no fundraising activity for three moths, and the event is just three weeks away. As of now, just $240 of their $2600 goal raised. $2600 is a modest goal, and this is a sincere effort to do something meaningful in challenging times.

I know it’s still pandemic crazy time, but if you’ve got reach to attract some attention (and, hopefully, a few dollars) to the effort, please do.

Fundraiser is here.

And if you can attend (safely!), I know you know the value of an attentive audience….

[ UPDATE 2021.09.22]

Apparently there is some technical trouble with GoFundMe (of course, because I asked people to go there… of course. Of course.).

Anyway, the “donate” button at GoFundMe doesn’t work right now, but you can make a contribution directly to the Baltimore Black Dance Collective via PayPal or credit/debit card here.

I do suggest you follow-up any Black Choreographer’s Festival donations with an email and make sure they know your intention.

Thanks again, and sorry for the confusion.

Also, I forgot to do this in the original request…. and now I’m officially too late (east coast time), but… Do you remember? Demi Adejuyigbe does his thing and if you need that original dazzling late 70’s video, that’s here.

BREAD: Building Racial Equity in the Arts through Dance

Please join ClancyWorks on Wednesday, February 24th from 4pm-6pm EST AND/OR Saturday, February 27th from 12pm-2pm EST for BREAD: Building Racial Equity in the Arts through Dance facilitated by Devon Wallace. Presented by ClancyWorks, these workshops will remain free of charge to participants. Please email with any questions.⁠


Love the Movement, Honor the People: The commercialization and exploitation of modern African American dance and culture for a world audience.

This workshop will directly address cultural and commercial treatment of African American dance encompassing the past 50 years. Many of the practices, traditions, and expectations of these dance styles have been compromised, disregarded, and in some cases sacrificed for outside forces to gain comfort or to thrive without full understanding of the art forms.

We will examine the many ways this presents itself, utilizing lecture, presenter-led movement, group dialogue, and music analysis. This will allow us to shine light on issues that stifle the beauty and brilliance of African-American artistic creations and the communities that facilitated their developments.
Register for either session, or both sessions, whichever your schedule allows. Although we have the same seminar planned for both sessions, we know that conversations and the ways we participate will make each session slightly different. Our hopes are that weekday and weekend options will accommodate a larger audience and foster participation from more members of the artistic community; feel free to share this event with coworkers, peers, etc. all are welcome.

A Baltimore Dance Incubator Is Real / State Emergency Funding / Small Budget Dance Makers / Dance is a Weapon / Social Bonding

A Baltimore Dance Incubator

I’m pleased to announce that we (I couldn’t have done it alone…) have secured a commitment from the Southwest Partnership to “generate a design that meets the 21st century needs of the dance community” at the Lord Baltimore Theater.  Importantly, this is described as a “state-of-the-art incubator for dance.”

This process (at this building) began over a year ago, with the acquisition of the property by the Southwest Partnership in April 2019.  Many of you will also be aware that I’ve been deep into the economic, artistic, and practical gaps that exist for dance and movement arts in and around Baltimore city for much longer than that, so things may move quickly from here.

The immediate next steps involve identifying potential candidates to serve on the board of directors for a new non-profit organization, and raising a first round of funding to develop the design concept to a budget-able and fund-able stage. 

To that end, I have a few immediate requests:

  • Please let me know if you have any suggested candidate board members;
  • Please let me know what your specific hopes and expectations are – this is an incubator.  What do YOU need to create a nurturing, accessible, affordable, and “state of the art” facility?  I already have a lot to work with from the Baltimore Regional Dance Survey and previous engagements, but this is an opportunity to dream big and get very specific.  No promises that your dreams will come true, but… Please do express those dreams. Now is the time to get into the very specific details.
  • If you have any experience or wisdom to share about local funding organizations for dance or cultural facilities in and around Baltimore, I’d love to learn from you…

Thanks to everyone that attended the public meetings, indulged by sometimes oblique questions, and participated in the surveys and conversations.  This made a huge difference.

State Emergency Funding

Maryland’s Governor announced an $3 million expansion of the The Maryland State Arts Council Emergency Grant Program.

Small Budget Dance Makers

Dance/NYC released their “Defining ‘Small-Budget’ Dance Makers in a Changing Dance Ecology” report a couple weeks ago.  Find that here:

Could Dance Be a Weapon All Over Again?

Gia Kourlas opines on the relevance of the New Dance Group in 2020 –

Ford Foundation Commitment to Dance

The Ford Foundation leads a $156 million commitment to support Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous Arts Organizations ( ).  Dance figures prominently in this effort – of the 20 organizations selected, four are about dance – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Hispánico, Dance Theater of Harlem, Urban Bush Women (most are museums).

Moving Together and Social Bonds

From the October issue of Scientific American, an interesting piece… “Moving in Sync Creates Surprising Social Bonds among People” –

Please #BRDS2020 and bring friends to #BRDS2020 ( )
Please stay home.
Please keep dancing.
Please reach out to people directly and personally. They will miss seeing/dancing/working with you. I will miss you.
Simple acts of kindness do matter. Point out beauty when you can. Bring a little joy to someone.
If there is something I can do, please let me know.

A Lord Baltimore Dance Incubator

In just a couple hours, the Southwest Partnership and their design consultants, Two Point Studio will host a charette to clarify design intent for the redevelopment of the Lord Baltimore Theater. More information on that is here.

I’ve been working on a dance incubator concept for the site, so as a point-of-reference, here’s a conceptual floorplan.

Lord Baltimore Theater, Dance Incubator Concept, August 2020

CALL TO ACTION – August 22, 2020 – Building a Dance Incubator in Baltimore

Bottom Line Up Front

Please attend and represent dance as interested stakeholders, so your needs as dancers are fully integrated into the design process for the future development of the Lord Baltimore Theater in southwest Baltimore.

Who:  You! (and your dance friends)
What:  A “charette” (a “final” community engagement meeting) with Southwest Partnership ( )
Where:  In person (place to be determined) and on Zoom.
Why:  To make a place for dance in the Baltimore region.
When:  August 22, 2020.  11am (please be early) to 1pm (theoretically).
How:  Register here

Please be prepared to:

a) Demonstrate that the Baltimore regional dance community is a large, active, and engaged group of stakeholders in this specific project.  The Lord Baltimore Theater is (as far as I’m aware) the first large dance-specific construction opportunity since UMBC’s Performing Arts & Humanities Building in 2014, and the only one intentionally and specifically available to every dancer in the region as a production and development resource.

b) Request (and validate) the use of the entire building as a dance-focused incubator.  This means things like sprung floors and safe dance surfaces, so you don’t have to bring those yourself (or do without).  This means that the auxiliary spaces are dance-oriented (dance studios and production suites), not generic (boardrooms and conference rooms).  This doesn’t mean dance-exclusive (it’s wonderful to have a spoken-word artist on the stage, and multi-disciplinary collaborations are awesome), but to create a space DESIGNED FOR DANCE.

c) Guide the design team and Southwest Partnership (SWP) as they finalize their plans to redevelop the building.  Suggest modifications, upgrades, and features that would make your use of the space more cost-effective, convenient, or dance-friendly.

d) Offer your suggestions about using dance and this space-for-dance as a community resource.  Think about how you can engage the people in the immediate neighborhood, how dance can change lives.  Share those visions.

Call to Action

The Lord Baltimore Theater WILL be developed in the coming years.  The next step in that effort is an August 22 “charette” (effectively a community engagement meeting) organized by Southwest Partnership (the building owner).  The engaged presence of a large number of dancers is critical to delivering what YOU need from this project.  I believe the Lord Baltimore Theater will make an excellent place to develop and share Baltimore’s dance. Please help me make that happen:

  •  Talk to me before August 22… talk to me about….
    •  How you would use the space;
    • What features you think are most important;
    • What are your critical price-points;
    • Share your vision of dance as a positive way to engage the community; and
    • Whatever else you think I should know about your vision of this space.
  • Register to participate in the charette ( ) as soon as possible.
  • Share this registration link (and this message…) with your dance network.
  • Make sure you’ve completed the Baltimore Regional Dance Survey ( ) this year.
  • Attend the event, either in person or virtually (via Zoom).
  • Advocate for YOUR needs as dancers (and friends of dance) during the event.
  • Read on for more details about the vision, the space, and more…

The Vision

After much effort, I believe this is a solid plan for developing the Lord Baltimore Theater as a regional (and hopefully super-regional) dance incubator, development center, and performance space.  This plan includes:

  • An approximately 175-seat theater with a highly-raked seating configuration;
  • A 30Dx40W foot permanent sprung floor performance area;
  • Large clear wings (10-15 feet);
  • A flyhouse providing full-stage masking and rigging options; and
  • A complete array of sound, lighting, projection, and technical equipment (including, I hope, motion capture).

For those of you familiar with regional theater spaces, this is similar to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Dance Theatre (College Park) seating configuration (see ), facing the Towson Stephens Hall Theater stage (see for clips from a Stephens Hall Nutcracker and the @danceatccbc Instagram from about 8 months ago for some behind-the-scenes photos).  Production support features include:

  • Dressing rooms (immediately below the stage);
  • A Costume Lab with on-site laundry;
  • Stage-level quick change areas on each side of the stage;
  • Stage-level crossover; and
  • Sound-isolated review suites for reviewers (including live streaming) and/or audio description of performances.

A theater at this capacity (less than 200 seats) fills an immediate need for dance-development space in the region.  This is small enough that dance companies and choreographers can afford to be in the space without the expectation of selling many hundreds to thousands of tickets, but still large enough to have a meaningful audience experience to help develop their work.  When you “graduate” from this space, there are several mid-capacity (500-1000 seat) theater spaces available in the region, and the work developed here doesn’t need significant re-work to translate to the larger-capacity venues.  In addition to the centerpiece performance space, the incubator concept also provides:

  • Two large (1200 sq ft) and two small (600 sq ft) dance studios;
  • A 1000 sq ft reception/gallery/open studio space;
  • Large public restrooms;
  • A coffee shop/cafe;
  • A large dancer lounge/common area;
  • A retail/community engagement space;
  • Several production suites for video recording/broadcast/streaming and sound recording/mastering;
  • Office/desk space for resident companies and dance support businesses.
  • Shower/changing rooms; and
  • Individual lockers.

These features, combined, represent a world-class dance development machine capable of engaging the local neighborhood, the Baltimore region’s broader dance community, and even reaching beyond the region as a place to come to develop dance performance for the stage.

The availability of multiple studios, and a casual, inviting common space bridges gaps between dance companies and schools in the region.  Bringing dancers of all kinds into the same space presents a great opportunity for engagement and innovation.  This may, in time, serve as an anchor institution for a dance complex, with dancer-oriented housing, businesses, and other performance and studio spaces in the immediate neighborhood.

The Space

The building is roughly 125 feet deep and 80 feet wide, and largely windowless.  The south side of the building has three one-story spaces (the original theater lobby and two retail additions) about 30 feet deep.  The existing seating area is about 80 feet by 80 feet with a sloped floor (it will be much smaller after development), and on the north side of the building, the theater stage, with an intact flyhouse about 40 by 80 feet.  I must emphasize that I believe this is the last available, vacant, intact, flyhouse in Baltimore, and this is an amazingly valuable asset when it comes to dance development for the traditional stage.  This unique space affords the ability to quickly set and reset the stage space for different dance productions, which makes it possible to do more with the theater.

The Region

The Lord Baltimore Theater is located on the north side of the 1100 block of West Baltimore Street, which is just over one mile from the stadium complex on the south side of Baltimore.  This is about 40 minutes from UMCP, less than 30 minutes from Towson University and Goucher, less than 15 minutes from UMBC, and about 10 minutes from both Peabody and Coppin.  Roughly 500,000 people live within 5 miles of the location, just over 1.8 million live within 15 miles.  Transportation is convenient and close – the interstate is 2 miles away; there is a bus route immediately in front of the building; Penn Station (rail and bus connection to New York) is 2.5 miles away; and BWI is just over 10 miles.

This is a neighborhood of schools, with James McHenry Elementary, Francis M. Wood High School, Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, Franklin Square Elementary, Steuart Hill Academic Academy, and the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School opening in Fall 2021, among others.  Please think about what dance can do for these students.

This location also has ready access to downtown hotels, low-cost production supplies (Scrap B’more and Second Chance), and tools (Baltimore Tool Bank, Ace Hardware, Grainger Supply), drycleaning (ZIPS), printing (Work Printing and Graphics), medical supplies (Walgreens) all within one mile.

This is in City Council District 9 (John T. Bullock), State Legislative District 40 (Senator Antonio L. Hayes, Delegate Frank M. Conaway, Jr., Delegate Nick J. Mosby, and Delegate Melissa R. Wells), and Congressional District MD-7 (Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Representative Kweisi Mfume).  If you live in these districts, please do let me know.

To the south, Hollins Market.  Dancers need food, and… food is a block away.  The market also has an empty second-floor space roughly 50 x 100 feet, which could be ideal for expanded “satellite” dance space.   A bit further south (past the B&O Railroad Museum), Mobtown Ballroom ( ) and Suspended Brewing ( ) for your after-dancing dancing-and-drinking needs.  There’s even a made-in-Baltimore contract clothing manufacturer ( ) if that’s something you can use…

To the east, the University of Maryland BioPark, which includes biomedical research, and the Graduate Research Innovation District (GRID), which operates as a health and social impact incubator. Just across Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, the University of Maryland Baltimore, with schools of medicine, social work, and law.  Also, Lithuanian Hall for your massive hundreds-of-people before- and after-parties.

To the north, an $800 million many-block mixed-use development called Center\West is in progress from La Cite ( ).

To the west… Grace Medical Center (with a physical therapy department and a new ER), and west Baltimore… all the way to UMBC (a little less than 6 miles to the southwest…).

Background on the Project

In 1845, this location was the site of the Newton Academy.  In 1894, Professor W. T. Auer acquires the Newton Academy building and remodels it into a dance academy, with a nearly 2000-square-foot main hall and 21-foot ceiling.  The W. T. Auer Dancing Academy suffered a fire in March 1895, but reopens and continues until September, when Professor Auer relocates a bit east to the 700 block of West Baltimore.  After this move, the building is used as an armory for several years, until it becomes the home of the National Temperance Hospital and Maryland Medical College in 1898 (this later evolves into Franklin Square Hospital).  In 1912, Pearce & Scheck Enterprises purchase the lot and announce plans for a 1700-seat vaudeville and moving picture theater (it ends up closer to 1000 seats).  The building is renovated in 1921, and 1932, and 1934, and is home to the Baltimore Film Society in the mid-1960s.  When the theater closes in the early 1970s, the space is occupied by St. Matthews Holiness Church, until it is abandoned.

In April 2019 the Southwest Partnership, a non-profit community development organization, purchased the theater for $1 million. Since then, they’ve spent another $275,000 or more stabilizing and and securing the building.  This process has removed what was the projection house.

In late February, the Southwest Partnership organized a “Visioning Session” for the theater.  About 40 people attended, including Councilman John Bullock (and maybe some of you), and after going through their process, four concepts emerged as the most popular: A “Baltimore Walk of Fame,” a “Rotating Local Makerspace, Gallery, Coffee Shop & Restaurant,” a “Dance Hub & Incubator,” and a “Resource Center for Arts, Tech & Culture.”  This was, at some point, narrowed down to three concepts, described as a “Multipurpose Cultural Arts Center with Community Access,” “Fine Arts Dance Theater,” and “Walk of Fame.”

Of these concepts, the Walk of Fame is entirely exterior to the building and therefore entirely compatible with the building use as a dance incubator (also, Baltimore has a few fame-worthy dancers to add to that project – if you’re into Baltimore dance history, please get involved with that).

A local architectural firm (Two Point Studio) has developed renderings of their concept for the space.  This concept includes a cafe, lobby, a gallery, classroom, conference room, 244-seat theater, resident housing, rehearsal studios, offices, a lounge, board room, meeting room, and office area.

I contend that a focused, specific use for the space (dance) is a much stronger proposal than a “multipurpose arts center.” Baltimore has several “multipurpose arts centers” already (e.g., Creative Alliances’ Patterson, the Downtown Cultural Arts Center [less than 2 miles away], Motorhouse, School 33…), but no theater that is well-equipped to develop dance (unless you’re in a university dance program).

One of the most important opportunities to advance that effort will happen this year (in the middle of an economic crisis and pandemic) on Saturday, August 22, 2020 at 11am (scheduled for about 2 hours).  The Southwest Partnership, owners of the Lord Baltimore Theater, are holding a public-engagement “charette” to solidify their concepts for developing the theater.  I hope all of you will turn out to support the effort, and bring friends, especially if they live or work in Baltimore or (even better) Southwest Baltimore.  That said, stay safe.  The event will be handled online (via Zoom), so please participate in a way that you feel is safe for yourself and those around you.

Some Other Things (A little background and fun)

For news coverage of the project, and

For a brief description, and a photo of the marquee and sign that the SWP prefers, see the 1100 block section of A Walk Down West Baltimore Street ( ).

For an audio introduction to the neighborhood, check out Out of the Blocks, Hollins Market, part 1 ( ) and part 2 ( ).

For some vicarious urban exploration, before it was stabilized and cleaned up a bit,

Southwest Partnership represents seven neighborhoods (Barre Circle (!), Franklin Square, Hollins Roundhouse, Mount Clare, Pigtown, Poppleton, and Union Square).  You can see their Vision Plan here ( ).

Thanks for your attention, I hope to see you on the 22nd!

MSAC grant (due August 3) / MPT STIRcrazy / SBA grant / DETI

America is not doing very well with the pandemic response, which now puts the fall/winter season in serious jeopardy.  Be safe out there.

Also, since I’m unlikely to have access to archives and libraries for some time, I’ve decided to slice up the treatise on dance in the region and push the mostly-finished parts out to the world so you (and everyone else) in the community can start tearing it apart and use it to make plans and dream visions for the future of dance in the region.  At this point, I think it’s more important to get the material out there sooner, rather than better.  I still do need to assemble some resources to make that happen, but thanks for your patience on this thing.  The deep-dives into history and stories will come eventually.

MNRI-MSAC Grant opportunity

Part of the Maryland Nonprofit Recovery Initiative, the Maryland State Arts Council has an emergency grant program, with a coming-real-soon-now deadline (August 3).  This is a pretty limited pool of money ($3 million), so make sure you address EVERY point in the rubric if you apply.  Detailed information here:


This has been around a while, but… apparently still looking for submissions.  Dance is historically poorly represented with MPT (lookin’ at you ArtWorks…), so this is a bit of a chance to bend that curve.  MPT STIRcrazy is looking for “YOUR creative endeavors during this time of COVID-19.”  Submission information here:

ArtWorks is re-tooling for their new season, so it would be great to see dance (and more importantly, LOCAL dance) in their new format.  Give them some amazing stuff with STIRcrazy – that might help.

SBA Grant/Loan program

For gig workers (teaching and performing gigs do count…), there’s an SBA program that offers a $1000 grant and $10,000 loan, but… it’s confusing.  If you are a sole proprietor, without employees, a contractor, a freelancer, or a gig worker, and you were in business before 2020, you qualify.  The best description I’ve found is from the Motley Fool people at USA Today ( ).  Pay special attention to the “Are there any strings attached?” section.  You should be able to get the grant and refuse the loan (assuming there are still funds available).  If you have success with this, please do let me know, so I can forward your experience to others.

Dance Educators Training Institute 2020

DETI (Dance Educators Training Institute) is virtual this year. August 17-19.  DETI is presenting 12 sessions over three days from.  More information here:

Know anyone with Dance/USA?

I’m looking for someone at Dance/USA to talk about distribution for material about dance in the Baltimore Region… anyone connected?

And, because we gotta have a little joy in our lives… Some cut paper dance:

Please #BRDS2020 and bring friends to #BRDS2020 ( )
Please stay home.
Please keep dancing.
Please reach out to people directly and personally.  They will miss seeing/dancing/working with you.  I will miss you.
Simple acts of kindness do matter.  Point out beauty when you can. Bring a little joy to someone.
If there is something I can do, please let me know.