November 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
At the end of November 2014, Dance Manhattan will close its doors for good. The dance studio, which has been in continuous operation for more than two decades, has been looking for affordable space near its current location for over a year without success. The building’s current owners decided not to renew the lease, preferring to replace the studio with a tenant better able to afford the inflated rent for this large commercial space—tech start-up, Web design firm, or boutique advertising company most likely—something fun and flashy, something more in keeping with the targeted rebranding of this former commercial district of downtown Manhattan. The studio has taught tango and other dance styles (swing, ballroom, salsa, etc.) primarily for social settings. To my knowledge, they do not teach competitive or performance styles of dance in any form. I know them through my own tango classes and the several “practicas” held there on a weekly basis. Although I have been studying at Dance Manhattan for a relatively short period of time—a little more than a year—it has become a kind of home-away-from-home for me. The space is slightly rundown, a bit worn at the heels, but that in no way detracts from its charm or functionality. And personally, I’m perfectly happy with it the way it is. The staff has always been friendly and welcoming and the dance studios are very large (I believe the total floor area on each of the two floors is about 4,000 square feet) and can be subdivided into smaller spaces as need be.
As many of you know, Dance Manhattan hosts several popular practicas each week: Racing Club, hosted by Rebecca Shulman and Robin Thomas on Thursday night, Xangria, hosted by Xavier Vanier on Tuesday night, and two practicas on Saturday, one in the late morning hosted by Ko Tanaka and one in the early afternoon, hosted by Fran Chesleigh. They are all well attended. With Dance Manhattan’s demise, the teachers have been forced to find new spaces for their classes. Some, including Valeria Solomonoff, will move to You Should Be Dancing on Eighth Avenue near 31st Street; Rebecca will be at 440 Studios on Lafayette Street, just off Astor Place, and at Stepping Out Studios. I believe Fran Chesleigh has found space at Pearl Studios on Eighth Avenue. I’m not sure where Robin Thomas will be—Columbia, Princeton, Rockefeller University, and parts unknown no doubt.
I asked owners Elena and Teddy for their thoughts on the matter, and they had this to say:
We are thankful for the last 22 years . . . what a ride! We’ve appreciated the love, loyalty and support we’ve received from colleagues and students alike. We would have loved to continue providing a happy, healthy, community-based dance experience . . . but fate would not have it! We are heartbroken but happy to be able to exit gracefully and with pride, in “full swing”! We’re blessed to have been able to dance with you for so many glorious years!
This situation has been brought about by the pressures of the “market,” primarily the high commercial rents in the area. Located on 19th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, Dance Manhattan is bordered by high-end boutiques and well-known brand stores along the avenues and is close to Chelsea, which has some of the highest real-estate prices in the city. That an institution as long-lived and vital as this has been forced to close its doors because it is unable to find an appropriate space in which to continue doing what it’s been doing for two decades is characteristic of the ways in which New York City has changed.
The real-estate industry and so-called economic development programs have exerted tremendous pressure on the city and its inhabitants, and have forced out the weaker and less powerful, or simply financially less profitable, occupants, replacing them with chain stores and high-gloss commercial tenants. I don’t want to belabor this point because it would lead to a lengthy and possibly ill-considered diatribe on the myriad ways in which New York City has lost its character, its vitality, and its uniqueness over the past 20 years. In particular, I remember the streets of lower Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where Dance Manhattan has operated, as a neighborhood of commercial ventures, small manufacturing shops, warehouses, printers, and wholesalers of various kinds. It was always one of my favorite neighborhoods and I loved the diversity of those streets and the unexpectedness of what you might find there if you looked. (A similar process has taken place in other, formerly commercial districts of Manhattan: large portions of the diamond district, now reduced to a single strip along West 47th Street, the electronics district nearby, along 46th Street, the printing and binding shops in the 20s, the plumbing, electrical supply and hardware stores that ran along the Bowery between 5th Street and Canal, the warehouses of Tribeca, the entire Meatpacking district—these are all mostly gone. The garment district had to be saved by City government to prevent further depredation.)
This area was, and is, notable as well for the variety of its cast-iron buildings, one of this city’s architectural highlights. Dance Manhattan was one of those places, a cultural oasis tucked away on a couple of floors of a large, old commercial building, in an area noted for its magnificent but unassuming industrial structures. But the unexpected is no longer a viable commodity in New York City. Apparently, we prefer the reassuring monotony of upscale boutiques and national chain stores on the ground floor, the latest in Web design or maybe a brash new start-up coding apps for smart phones on the floors above. Nowadays, creativity must be profit-driven if it is to be at all.