Baltimore’s Future Fitness and Wellness Centers

A little while ago, I mentioned the Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Department Recreation and Aquatics Facility Analysis and Plan July 2015, which is a 100-page document that describes some interesting stuff for the future of dance in the city of Baltimore. If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, please, dig in. Funding for this plan (more than $135 million) is controversial and political. But this plan is important, just keep in mind that this is a planning document, which means it’s not real until it’s real.

Why is this a big deal for dance in Baltimore? The Rita Church and Morrell Park Community Centers are the first new stand-alone community centers in Baltimore in a decade and follow a dramatic series of closings. The city wants you involved.

Why is this a big deal for In the Dancer’s Studio? Because these facilities will be designed and built over the next 10 to 15 years (give or take, subject to funding availability, etc.), and dance is already part of the equation. The dancers of Baltimore can get involved in the design and allocation of space. I keep asking… What does Baltimore need to make dance work?

Here’s the language used in the plan. Baltimore describes “Fitness and Wellness Centers” as:

…recreation facilities that are located in or near parks, other recreational facilities, and athletic fields. These larger (30,000+ s.f.), full-service centers will provide multiple programs and activities for all ages, extended hours of operation in the mornings and afternoons, and 6 – 7 day operations. The centers will include spaces such as fitness areas, dance and multi-purpose rooms, a gymnasium, and men’s and women’s locker rooms. Several of the new facilities will include indoor pools. The wide variety of programming will be designed for individuals, teens, youth, adults, active older adults, and families and will attract residents citywide.

and “Community Centers” as:

…recreation facilities that located in or near parks, other aquatics facilities, and athletic fields. These smaller centers (less than 30,000 s.f.) will provide a range of programs and activities for all ages with extended hours of operation. The facilities will vary in size and programming depending upon location. Expanded spaces may include a fitness room, dance spaces, multi-purpose rooms, lobby and circulation areas, and men’s/women’s changing rooms/bathrooms. Programming will likely serve more local residents.

These two classes of facilities both specifically include dance. Since we’re about the business of dance here, I’m going to ignore the “Seasonal Athletic Centers,” “Outdoor Aquatic Centers” and “School-Based Recreation Spaces” (even though this will necessarily ignore the nice people at Fluid Movement).

The planned Fitness and Wellness Centers are:

  1. Cahill, $12 million, in design, 32,000 square feet, includes a performing arts space.
  2. Carroll Park, $12 million, funding to be identified, includes a dance space
  3. CC Jackson, $4.22 million, under construction
  4. Cherry Hill, $11.5 million, under construction, includes a dance space, estimated completion Spring 2017
  5. Chick Webb, $12 million, funding to be identified
  6. Clifton Park (Rita R Church), $3.5 million, phase 1 completed 2013. $4.54 million, phase 2 under construction
  7. Druid Hill, $8 million, funding to be identified
  8. Farring-Baybrook, $12 million, funding to be identified
  9. Herring Run, $15 million, funding to be identified, includes a dance space
  10. Lillian Jones, $12.5 million, funding to be identified
  11. North Harford, $12 million, funding to be identified, two phases

The planned Community Centers are:

  1. Edgewood-Lyndhurst, $1 million, funding to be identified
  2. Locust Point, $2.5 million, funding to be identified
  3. Morrell Park, $4.5 million, completed 2014, 18,000 square feet.
  4. Patterson Park (Virginia S. Baker), $6.3 million, funding to be identified

Baltimore Rec Facilities 2016 Plan
If there’s a link to a facility in the list above, it goes directly to the city’s “Destination Active Baltimore” website, where you can engage directly and share your thoughts on what happens. Previously, I mentioned that the Cahill facility was particularly interesting for the Baltimore dance community. This is why:

The existing center located in Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park will be expanded or newly built. Presently in the early stages of design, the form of the new facility is yet to be determined. The center will be 32,000 square feet and will include performing arts facilities, an indoor pool, fitness area and provide a new focus on outdoor recreation and environmental programming. Project completion is anticipated for Fall 2017. Cost: $12 million

Cahill brings 32,000 square feet of facility, some of which is already designated for performing arts. Is your particular kind of dance a performing art? Got any special requirements to make a performing arts space work for you? Cahill is also adjacent to Gwynns Falls Park, which suggests a question… Is an outdoor stage interesting?

Cherry Hill’s plan includes a dance studio, scheduled to open in Spring 2017. Anyone out there need a dance studio space in south Baltimore?

Locust Point has two “multipurpose” rooms in its plan – anyone want to make the case to put a sprung floor in one of them?

About a subtitle – Welcome.

This site is subtitled “Something about the Business of Dance in Baltimore” for several reasons…

First, Dance. I am very up-front about the fact that I am not a dancer. I work with dancers. I work for dancers. Sometimes, I even hire dancers. I’ve got dancers in my family and a lot of dancers in my chosen (non-genetic) family. This isn’t about just dhaanto, or just modern dance, or just flamenco, or just ballet, or just rojin odori, or just salsa, or just hiphop. If you move, for yourself or an audience; if you find ikigai with bodies in motion, then that counts – Welcome. If you make the noises that make the bodies move – Welcome. If you support dancers by driving the carpool for the kids, or opening up the studio after hours, or turning on the lights, or mixing the music, or fixing the costumes, or… whatever – Welcome. If you’re not a dancer, but appreciate dance – Welcome.

Second, Baltimore. Because, well, Baltimore is about as big a challenge as I can tackle. But by Baltimore, I do mean the Baltimore region, and by Baltimore region, I’m not willing to put hard boundaries on what does and does not count. Live in the area? Dance in the area? Coming to visit for a few days and looking for something dancey? Welcome.

Third, Business. Dance is generally a really expensive endeavor. Some dances require big elaborate spaces. Some require big elaborate costumes. Serious dancers spend untold fortunes on training and preparation. Some spend fortunes on shoes. With expense comes the challenge of revenue, and money for dance is pretty thin in this region right now. It doesn’t have to be, and, at least to me, it shouldn’t be. It’s amazing how much is happening with the desperately limited resources available. Imagine with me for a moment, what could happen if it was just a little bit easier on the financial side, and you could focus more on the dancing side. Imagine a Baltimore where a serious dancer didn’t have to leave to find a career path…

Despite having a casino (or two), Baltimore isn’t going to be Las Vegas when it comes to dance employment (averaging $27/hour and shows that run for months non-stop) so you can make $50,000 a year, oh, and the average house sells for under $200,000. Baltimore is not going to be New York where a dancer’s average income is a bit more than $28,000, but $1200/month (51% of your dance income) gets you about 400 square feet to live in Queens. You might be among the lucky 18% of New York dancers that score a full-time dance job in New York, that gets you to about $40,000/year.

Baltimore has some economic advantages, and some really great geographic advantages in play for dancers. Median home value is $115,000 or about 60% of Las Vegas or 20% of New York City. Rent in City Arts 2 is under $1000/month for a two-bedroom apartment, and there’s a dance studio in the building. Baltimore is within one-day’s-drive (it’s a long day) of half of the US population. Traditional and folk dancers have a ready market in DC with just about every country in the world represented in some capacity – all an hour away. What does Baltimore bring to the mix? Well, you can see all that stuff on the side. Dance schools around Baltimore are putting ballet and tap shoes on thousands of kids. If you’re serious about a dance career, you’ve got five universities ready to put your name on a Bachelor’s degree – in dance – and most of them have great facilities. The variety of dance in the area is astounding – accredited Irish instructors, doctors of dance, Ailey alums, a Suzanne Farrell Ballet Alum, a 7-year-old belly dance festival, and a 10-year-old dance educators program, modern dance exploring physics, a new dance form (Shake Off), Cuban. And I’m just picking some fun ones for variety… so much more. Which is to say, Baltimore has a lot to build on.

Occasionally, in conversations about the business of dance in Baltimore with new people, I have met skepticism and some degree of animosity. “Who are you to be asking these questions?” “Why are you getting up in our business?” “Leave me alone.” “What’s in it for you?” I don’t expect to be the first person in history to herd all the cats and make world peace through dance. I’m trying to change some things to make dance work better in Baltimore. I can’t do it alone, and the more people come together and push in the same direction, the easier it is for everyone. But I am not foolish enough to assume that everyone will get along, and everyone will like everything that comes from these efforts. If I step on your feet, please forgive me. I’m not a dancer, remember?

I do think I have a deeply considered, valid perspective on what is happening and could happen, and I’m willing to share it. I welcome the conversation, but I’m not some power broker that’s come here to twist arms or a prophet come to convert the apostates. This is a place for dancers, and people engaged in dance, to have a little fun, engage with each other, create some new stuff and maybe tackle some big challenges – together. The only thing I require is that if you come here, be civil. Be good to each other. You don’t have to play, but if you do play, play nice.

So, let’s have some fun. Bollywood gangsters, anyone? आओ मेरे साथ नृत्य करो (Come dance with me) Welcome.

Conversations on Dance in Baltimore

As some of you know, I’ve been sitting down with small groups of dancers in the Baltimore region for many weeks now. I’ve tried to keep the conversations as open-ended as possible around the very generic questions “What makes dance work in Baltimore?” “What does Baltimore need to make dance work?” The answers usually spiral wonderfully (especially if there’s a nice diverse group of people around the table) into very specific, shared challenges.

This place ( is an extension of these conversations.

Finding available resources is a recurring challenge that comes up in these conversations. But, we have technology. To that end, if I can call this the “official launch” for this site, over on the side, you will find links to 38 places to perform (from 40 to 2500+ seats), 32 studios you can rent (to practice, rehearse, learn, or… dance), 10 organizations in the region that support dance to some degree, and 116 places to learn dance (6 of which will give you a degree, and several others that have multiple physical locations). I know these lists are incomplete (and they always will be), but if you know something I missed, down on the lower-right you’ll find a list of “tip” links to give me a clue. Please do. I need a lot of clues.

And there is movement (and potential movement) in the dance world for Baltimore. For now, to get a conversation going, I thought I’d mention a few huge (money) things that touch the dance world of Baltimore in some way. Maybe in ways you don’t expect. There’s a lot more, particularly down in the individual-dance-company level that I’d love to (and will) explore, but I don’t want to get too far into the weeds right off the bat.

About two years ago, the second phase of the Performing Arts and Humanities building at UMBC opened, with their Dance Cube (a 3500 square foot space made for dance), a Dance Technology Center (2400 square feet with fun technology), the Proscenium Theatre (250 seats), and a couple dance studio spaces.

Less than a year ago, Motor House opened, with a new performance space. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for all dance, since there’s relatively low steel beam situation in the ceiling and a dance-brutal concrete floor, so the vertically- and impact-oriented among you are kinda left out on this one.

Today, work progresses on City Arts 2 will include dance studio space but is mostly artist-oriented living space. That’s a huge deal for dancers that need to live on a dancer budget. City Arts 2 should open in a few months.

Also in that neighborhood, pay attention to OpenWorks, because this massive ($10 million) makerspace will give the dancers of Baltimore unprecedented access to tools and technologies for just the cost of a monthly membership, and they have a textile studio, so costuming (along with electronics, 3D printing, laser cutters, and wood and metal shops) is coming to Station North.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank as committed $5 million to renovate and expand the recreation center at 1100 East Fayette (what is now the Carmelo Anthony Youth Center), which will include a “dance and yoga space.” There’s also a good chance (but not a lot of detail) that dance can figure into the massive Port Covington project. And I do mean massive – this is one of the, if not the largest urban development projects in the country. There’s already a makerspace with a textile studio in that neighborhood (Foundery). Massive it is, and comes with drama. I haven’t even tried to navigate that drama, but there is a great opportunity to engage this project to serve the Baltimore dance community in some capacity. That does take some organization on the part of the dancers of Baltimore.

The city is also engaged, to some degree. In July 2015, we got a city-wide plan to upgrade and expand recreation centers (becoming “Fitness and Wellness Centers”). Particularly interesting in that general initiative is the planned expansion of the Cahill Performing Arts Center to 32,000 square feet. Unfortunately, information on the “recreation industry” tends to lump things like “folk dancing” and “jazzercise” into the same “fitness and wellness” category. Likewise, the scope of “arts and culture” ranges from dance performance to cooking lessons. With millions of dollars flowing into neighborhoods around the city, bending just a bit of that toward dance (your dance) is a real opportunity. What this means for dance in Baltimore is that these facilities will come on-line over the next several years (there are outstanding issues about funding), so there is time to influence some of the details. At the very least, some of you may want to teach in these new places. Again, organization matters. What does dance need?

I’ve said a lot, but ultimately what I want to say is that there is a very special moment happening in Baltimore right now that could change a lot of things for people that dance in this city.

I offer you this place to help make that happen.

If you’d like to contribute to this site, please get in touch. If you’d like to contribute off-line, please get in touch. There’s a general contact form available in the lower-right corner.

If you’d like to sit down and talk about some of these things, I’ll be doing that all summer. After that, I’m going to buckle down and get to work on the good stuff.

Welcome to this adventure.

Dance Graduates in Baltimore

I’ll come back to this eventually (there is a bigger picture in mind), but I did want to share this little bit while I was collecting information for the “learn something” links… Four-year dance degree programs in the Baltimore area:

  • Towson University, 21 Graduates
  • UMBC, 13 Graduates
  • Goucher College, 13 Graduates
  • UMCP, 11 Graduates, 4 Post-Graduates
  • Coppin State, 2 Graduates
  • ClancyWorks Dance Educators Training Institute

    A brief, but important plug for the ClancyWorks Dance Educators Training Institute, August 1 through 5, 2016 at UMBC:

    We believe that outstanding teaching takes place when educators are passionate and engaged in their own artistic growth! ClancyWorks Dance Company and Baltimore County Public Schools Office of Dance co-present intensive professional development programs for artists teaching dance, called the Dance Educators Training Institute (DETI). These week-long workshops are designed to enable participants to delve deeper into their artistic pursuits and to enhance their pedagogical techniques in a challenging and supportive environment.

    Video from 2014 … and 2013

    2016 DETI Pamphlet

    A Data Grind

    In the Dancer’s Studio is a brand-new adventure to advance the Baltimore regional dance-art economy.

    One must, generally, know their current situation in order to make meaningful progress. To that end, I’ve started collecting dance-relevant, local resources over there on the right ->. These things will forever be out-of-date and incomplete, but I hope to get enough material together here in one place to provide a resource for dancers and choreographers (and dance educators, and dance audiences).

    In conversation with dance people over the past several weeks, it has become obvious that even those people deep into their own dance don’t realize just how broad and varied the business of dance is in and around Baltimore. In the “Learn Something” list, you’ll find well over 100 different organizations teaching dance in the area, and I know I’ve missed several. I’ve also started collecting information on work opportunities, places to dance (and recommend you check out the newly-launched Baltimore SpaceFinder), performers available to work, organizations, and, in the near future, I’ll be adding performances. For now, most of these things on the right are not much more than links, but if you think aggregating some level of information here is useful, we can certainly do that. This is all very rough, so please pardon the dust and noise while I pull things together.

    Once the data grind is mostly settled, I’ll start focusing more on commentary, analysis and prose.

    If you notice something I’ve missed, please do let me know. If you’d like to contribute to this space, I’m very interested.

    A Declaration of Elevation

    It’s a holiday weekend, so someone should have some fun. There is no King or Evil Empire to pick on, and I am certainly no Thomas Jefferson, but the time is ripe, for many reasons, to step up a notch (or five, six, seven, eight…)

    When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one art form to assume a higher station to which the Laws of Nature entitle it, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that it should declare the causes which impel it to the elevation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident…

    • That people Dance, have always danced, and that dance is a positive experience for Performer and Audience alike.
    • That to secure this experience in the modern era, Facilities are constructed by People.
    • That whenever facilities are inadequate, it is the Right of the Dancers to institute new facilities, laying their foundation on such principles and organizing their powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Success, Safety and Happiness.

    Such has been the patient sufferance of these performers; and such is now the necessity which compels them to create new facilities. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

    They engage in the most ephemeral of art forms, physically manifesting for only moments before being left as a memory in the minds of their audience. That even the most elaborate of notation, photographic and highest definition videographic capture fail to preserve the experience of the performer and their audience.

    They have rehearsed in facilities inadequate to their profession and skill. That in some of these facilities, they dance on concrete, damaging joints, or on floors of splintering plywood, risking bloodshed.

    That the temperature has been unregulated, in some cases lacking both heating and cooling. That cold rooms lead to injury, and warm ones lead to exhaustion.

    That they always have, and will continue to perform through injury and exhaustion, but that when they do seek medical attention, their access to competent medical care is limited, and that the special concerns of the performer are not always fully or promptly addressed.

    They have performed under low ceilings, also on concrete and splintering floors, with inadequate sound, and inadequate, sometimes fluorescent, lighting. Their audiences have been crowded into rooms too small and spread out in rooms too large, so they appear nearly empty.

    That the presentation of dance is expensive, requiring the collaboration and equipment of many professional disciplines to execute fully. That when they can find safe and appropriate facilities to perform, the cost often exceeds even the most optimistic budgets of their companies. That dancers often perform for little to no wage, and, in some cases, pay to perform.

    That their performances are often one-time or one-week-only, and that there is no time for an audience to develop. They have performed without critics or reviewers, and only rarely reprise a piece often enough to build an audience. That without the external perspectives of a well-engaged audience, their art form languishes, often drifting aimlessly.

    That performers invest both time and money in their training, and that their career is often inherently short. That this training itself is expensive and time-consuming, and often requires extended travel. After years of training, in some cases, through University, they must move to find work, or give up their prime performance years to teach, or, in many cases, leave the dance entirely.

    That small groups of performers, constrained by a tradition of genre or interpersonal politics, effectively limit access to engaged audiences.

    That the bureaucratic and reporting requirements of grandwriting and fundraising often intimidate or overwhelm small organizations, and so many funding opportunities are ignored.

    That millions of dollars have been spent to construct facilities for performance, with no regard for Dance.

    In every stage of these Oppressions they have Petitioned for Audience in the most humble terms: Their repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

    We, therefore, the Representatives of Dance in this fair City, do solemnly publish and declare, that these united Dancers are, and of Right ought to be Building the Facilities they Need.

    Happy 4th, you crazy diamonds.