How Gibney dance studios expanded more than just their footprint

How Gibney dance studios expanded more than just their footprint

When the recession hit, Gina Gibney was faced with a predicament: how to sustain a dance space in New York City with a depleting source of funds. Her answer was to rescue the studio from the brink by expanding, not reducing, the amount of space that she took up at 890 Broadway, just north of Union Square.

The gambit worked in her favor. By renting out the additional rehearsal areas, she was able to generate revenue and provide a secure place (both physically and financially) for her dancers. She also managed to gain the attention of New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs, which approached Gibney to take over an at-risk studio space at 280 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. Now, following yet another expansion in their downtown building, Gibney (formerly known as Gibney Dance) occupies a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.

In a real estate landscape shadowed by ballooning rents, the numbers are impressive and speak to Gibney’s aptitude for not only creating spaces for the generation and expression of dance, but also for broadening those endeavors. “We have been sharply focused on bringing the experience of dance to spaces that would not have that experience otherwise,” Gibney said in a recent interview with ALL ARTS. “It’s in the fabric of our culture. It’s in the fabric of who we are.”

Since Gibney was founded in 1991, the organization has also grown the reach of its programs. In addition to renting out studio space on a tiered-system, the studios and performance venues also house the Gibney Dance Company and host an impressive residency program (which continues to grow), a packed roster of classes and a variety of workshops.

And as Gibney expands, it continues to reinforce the social and public programs core to the organization’s mission. Take, for example, Gibney’s work with domestic violence survivors, which began 20 years ago.

“Back in 1999, I read a statistic that really changed my life: that a woman is safer on the streets than she is in her own home,” Gibney explained. “We’re discriminated against. We’re disrespected. But your own body, in your own home, should be sacred.”

What came after was a workshop titled “Move to Move Beyond,” which provides free movement workshops that help participants recover from domestic violence through teachings about choice, self-expression, trust and sharing.

“I thought about our process, how we work together in the studio, and I realized we could use art and dance and the creative process to encourage them to reflect and to explore their own interiors,” Gibney said. “To encourage them to express that in movement, it’s incredibly liberating. Using dance and the practices of movement to encourage the women to take care of themselves and to take care of their community.”

She continued: “All of those elements, which were present in our practice as dancers, have an incredible impact in shelters, and now 20 years later, that work is still continuing.”

Jacob Thoman, Leal Zielinksa and Zui Gomez. Gibney Dance Company. Photo: Nir Arieli.
Jacob Thoman, Leal Zielinksa and Zui Gomez. Gibney Dance Company. Photo: Nir Arieli.

This work will be highlighted this October through the organization’s annual participation in Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In addition to a community action workshop on Oct. 15 and a benefit performance on Oct. 24, Gibney will also present a special performance of “Cracks of Light” on Oct. 25 and 26.

Taken together with the dance company’s fall 2019 season, titled “Both/And,” and Gibney’s presentational programming, “Walls Down!,” curated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa, the diverse slate amplifies the company’s mission to create a more inclusive space for dance and beyond.

“Every human body can move. The power of movement can change people’s lives,” Gibney said. “The process of participating in a rehearsal, sitting in an audience, and watching something unfold in real time. People side-by-side breathing, and having the same experience. That unifies people. It changes people’s hearts. It really changes their minds.”

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