Dance Takes the Next Steps by Bob Henderson, Head of School
Dance teacher Jillian Grunnah has an even bigger smile than usual these days. She will be able to teach in a brand new facility by this time next year, accommodating a growing program and rooting dance in a fully dedicated space for the first time. Fostering the dance program has long been an objective of the school. Nearly 20 years ago, well before my arrival as head, planning for a new athletic center was underway. With great foresight, the trustees and leadership of the school at that time imagined that the athletic program at Nobles eventually would place greater emphasis on fitness and wellness activities (in addition to interscholastic athletics), and the design of the Morrison Athletic Center (the MAC) reflected that philosophy. There was a very small, struggling dance program at Nobles in those days, existing as a limited one-season option in the Afternoon Program. The leadership of the school envisioned that dance might someday flourish and burgeon, and so they included a space for dance in the MAC; it was assigned the “other half” of the wrestling room. And dance did grow, albeit fitfully and slowly over the last two decades.
Roughly a decade ago, as planning began for the Arts Center, many people pointed out the limitations of the dance space in the MAC. Most notably, the surface of the floor there is inadequate. The Performing Arts Department advocated for inclusion of dance in the new Arts Center as a natural adjunct to the overall arts program. The early drawings of the Arts Center did, in fact, show a dance studio. Then, however, we were forced to prioritize and scale back that immense project in order to meet our funding capacity. Dance was the smallest of the performing arts programs at that time, with the shortest history at Nobles as compared to music and drama, and some argued that dance already had space in the MAC. So the dance studio disappeared in the “value engineering” process and the Arts Center opened without it.
Yet, as predicted by trustees in the 1990s, interest in dance continued slowly to grow. Emphasis on excellence in choreography for the spring musical productions in particular fueled interest and need, and the MAC was too far away to serve as an adequate or useful space to prepare for a major theatrical production. Indeed, dance classes and rehearsals were being held on the carpeted concrete floors of the Arts Center lobby. With the arrival of Jillian Grunnah at Nobles in the fall of 2009, interest in dance soared, a tribute to her charismatic presence and her emphasis on both inclusion and excellence. Over the last year we have seen roughly 40 students, between Afternoon Program and school day options, involved in dance in single seasons. Dance shows have repeatedly drawn enthusiastic full houses, and performances in morning Assembly have been regular occurrences. The time seemed right to take the next step and provide a proper home.
In December of this school year, the trustees approved a concept for a new dance studio. The site they selected is where the dance studio appeared in those original drawings of the Arts Center – on the north side of the building, behind the recital hall on Campus Drive, attached to the building adjacent to the current “green room.” The dance floor will be 3,000 square feet in size, determined after careful study of dance studios at other schools and with the current and future needs of our program in mind. The floor, to Jillian’s relief, will not be concrete. Instead it will be a multilayered surface of springs, hardwood and marley flooring, which will allow for a full range of locomotive training. We also will include other amenities, such as viewing space, that will enhance the quality of the dance program. Seizing the opportunity presented by this project, the trustees also authorized the creation of two new classrooms and several new offices on the second floor of this addition, addressing additional needs of the school. Construction will begin late this spring, and the most disruptive elements of the project will occur over the summer. Assuming all the planning, permitting and construction elements fall into line, this addition is scheduled for completion by January 2014; we plan to use all these facilities in the second semester of the next school year. Funding has been secured, and we have had the enthusiastic support of some generous donors who have long hoped to see dance emerge as a full partner in the performing arts program at Nobles. In the next edition of the Nobles magazine you will be able to see the full designs for this exciting addition to the Arts Center. I hope you will view this project, as I do, as both the fulfillment of a long-held vision for dance at Nobles, as well as an exciting opportunity for the future of the school.