Updated: Oct. 12, 2021 at 10:45 a.m.
Ongoing construction to renovate the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s primary rehearsal studio will block off access to the space for the rest of the academic year, leaving dance faculty and students struggling to find alternatives.
Officials said they closed Building J, located on G Street, and its dance studio space, Building J Down, last summer because of a combination of aging ventilation and “life safety systems,” water intrusion issues and asbestos treatment. Dance faculty and students said although the renovations are a positive step after years of facility issues, they’ve been unable to use the temporary replacement studio spaces officials provided, stirring concerns among professors that the studio’s closure will deter students from pursuing dance at GW.
Baxter Goodly, the associate vice president of facilities planning, construction and management, said the University has made Building J repairs a “top priority” this academic year. He said officials anticipate to reopen the building for classes next fall.
“To make this commitment reveals their understanding of how critical repairing this space is to the Corcoran’s dance program,” Goodly said in an email. “The entire project will include building-wide abatement, weatherproofing of the building envelope, HVAC upgrades, electrical system upgrades, new sprinkler and fire alarm systems, bathroom innovations and other building enhancements.”
University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said Building J’s dance courses have shifted to the University Student Center and District House dance studios this fall. She said officials collaborated with students in the dance program to provide an additional rehearsal area in Corcoran’s Flagg Building this semester.
Nosal said students and faculty who can no longer use Building J Down for their classes have made evening studio reservations at the University Student Center, limiting the space’s availability for student dance groups on campus.
“While this temporary shutdown has posed some logistical issues, it will not significantly impact the quality of the individual dance works and the associated concerts,” Nosal said in an email. “This seems like a reasonable balance of inconvenience against the major improvements expected in Building J.”
Four Corcoran dance faculty said the degradation of Building J’s facilities has remained unaddressed for decades, dating back to the 1960s. They said the quality of the program has suffered this semester as classes have struggled to access studios with proper flooring and mirrors and private practice spaces on campus – including at District House and the University Student Center.
Erica Rebollar, a professor of dance, said Building J’s facilities have deteriorated with age, causing a lack of proper air conditioning, leaky radiators and black mold. She said alumni in their 70s who visited Building J recently commented that the building’s overall infrastructure looked the same as it did in the 1960s.
“The building has been a health liability for 50 years, and with repeated requests for renovation, no reparative actions have taken place,” Rebollar said in an email.
Despite officials’ comments, Rebollar said the studio spaces in the University Student Center and District House have not been available to choreographers and dancers during evening rehearsals because student dance organizations still receive priority over student choreography rehearsals. One of her choreography students asked to practice in a park due to the lack of rehearsal spaces on campus this fall, she said.
Rebollar said without the space to choreograph and practice, dance students are missing a crucial component of their program.
“The fact that alternative spaces are off-limits to dance majors and minors is unacceptable,” she said. “This is the equivalent of students registering and paying for a chemistry lab without GW providing a lab. This situation was not addressed before in-person classes began, a major oversight from the dean.”
Gizelle Ruzany, an adjunct professor of dance technique, said a lack of practice spaces outside of class is reducing the “quality” of dance education at GW. She said her students are trying to learn and choreograph without a private practice space, and officials had not informed them when they can return to Building J.
“To suddenly not be allowed there and have my dance students kicked out of common areas since they do not have a room available for practice, is heart-wrenching,” she said. “The worst is that I have no details to give peace to our students.”
Ruzany said the University’s alternative practice spaces in the University Student Center, District House and Flagg Building are “quite unacceptable” because of the lack of proper dance facilities, like a raised wooden floor to allow for jumps and falls and dressing rooms with showers and mirrors.
“I know no one is trying to disregard or disrespect the art of dance and their students, but the lack of professional acceptable dance spaces in an internationally acclaimed University makes you wonder,” Ruzany said.
Four dance students said they were “disappointed” about Building J’s closure when they returned to campus this fall after spending more than a year learning choreography from their homes during the pandemic. They said officials are devaluing the dance program without a proper space for students to study and practice their art.
Grace Fletcher, a senior majoring in dance, said she is “extremely upset” by the lack of appropriate practice spaces and support for the Corcoran dance program from the University. She said officials should “rehabilitate” previous studio spaces to suit the needs of dancers and create department-wide access.
She said when she reserved a conference room in the University Student Center for a rehearsal earlier this month, she found the carpet and floor to be moist, moldy and unsafe for practice.
“There are multiple dance scholarships awarded each year, but GW lacks a sufficient amount of studio space for current dancers to learn,” Fletcher said in an email. “The dance department, at large, needs a significant change in their access to funding and acceptable studio spaces.”
Hannah Krantz, a junior minoring in dance, said Building J was a “home base” and a common area for dance students to study and socialize.
“Students just want to hang out before dance or move around, I think it’s so important to people with dance majors and minors, it keeps us going,” Krantz said. “I feel like I’ve lost a comforting place where I can just practice dance by myself. I don’t have that place anymore.”
This post was updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Fletcher rehearsed in the University Student Center’s dance studio earlier this month, where she found the carpet and floor to be moist. Fletcher was rehearsing in a conference room in the building. We regret this error.