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Stitched Into Neighborhoods, Dance Studios Battle to Stay Open

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Over the past few months, he has led the formation of the Dance Studio Alliance, a network of 16 studios ranging from high-profile hubs like Broadway Dance Center in Midtown to smaller spaces like Sweet Water Dance & Yoga in the South Bronx. On a recent Zoom call, members of the alliance expressed frustration with the vagueness of existing guidelines, in particular the conflation of dance studios with gyms, which currently cannot hold indoor classes. (In a separate category, dance classes are permitted at colleges and conservatories, like the Juilliard School.) One studio owner received clearance to reopen; another called the department of health and was told she couldn’t; another reopened and was shut down by the city sheriff’s office.

The dance advocacy organization Dance/NYC has been working with several partners, including Gibney in Lower Manhattan, to draft their own comprehensive reopening guidelines for dance studios. They plan to propose these to city officials, though perhaps at a time when the city is not bracing for another potential shutdown.

“We’ve come to a point where if we don’t do it for ourselves, no one will do it for us,” said Alejandra Duque Cifuentes, Dance/NYC’s executive director, noting that the city’s arts advisory council for reopening included no dance representatives.

Lucy Sexton, the executive director of New Yorkers for Culture & Arts, pointed out that in recent months, the dance field has been having “wonderful conversations about antiracism and racial equity.” But to have any real impact, these must translate into action, even — especially — at the level of small businesses.

“The people who are starting to close are the smaller organizations that are run by and for people of color,” she said. “Are we going to allow that to happen? Are we going to come out at the end of this with a whiter and more centralized ecosystem than we had going into it? I think we need to be very conscious and act accordingly.”

In the meantime, studio owners are doing what they can to get by without shuttering entirely. The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center has received some grant and loan money, but not enough to cover all its expenses, Ms. Smallwood said. She has started a fund-raising campaign with the goal of reopening in January, and so far has raised over $100,000.

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