Brooklyn-based choreographer Alexander Beller recalls the triumphs and challenges of a defunct Dance New Amsterdam. The 29-year-old dance organization closed its doors on October 15, 2013 after years of financial troubles.
Alexandra Beller, a Brooklyn-based modern dance choreographer, has been dancing since she was 10-years-old. A member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company from 1995-2001, Beller has taught in Hong Kong, Korea, Russia and in the states. But it was Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) where she honed her skills as a dance teacher. She taught at DNA for 17 years, exploring released and off-balance dancing.
DNA is a nonprofit dance studio and performance arts center based in the Financial District of Manhattan. It was founded in 1984 by Laurie De Vito, Michael Geiger, the late Danny Pepitone, Charles Wright and Lynn Simonson— who created the internationally renown Simonson Technique, a style of modern dance. Since then, the nonprofit has offered over 150 dance classes in modern, contemporary, ballet, Simonson technique, hip-hop and more to thousands of dance enthusiasts and professional dancers. This fall, those classes were halted. After filing for bankruptcy in May amid financial struggles that included unpaid rent, lack of funding and failed partnerships, DNA announced that it was closing on October 15. Classes and rentals continued through October 13.
Everybody is in a body and when you see somebody move, you just understand them at some level.
Dance, is for me, the most immediate accessible perfectly understood form of communication.
When the recession hit in ‘08, I think artists somehow thought that they were going to be immune. Like 'we have no money so how's it really going to affect us?' and then slowly it has really really made it's way through the arts community.
There’s so many things that are happening throughout the whole dance community and I feel the arts funding tightening everywhere.
I've been dancing for most of my life. I like my classes to relate in someway to the way that my brain is grappling with art and what it feels like to be a human being, which is often awkward and not beautiful.
I teach advance modern dance to professional dancers. They’re kind of a really big range, which is one of the things that's really nice about DNA. It’s a very non-elitist, generous, compassionate place and you don't have to earn attention here. You know, the attention is just given.
The hallway is really special. It's the hallway where all of these people are. And these are my loves. My companions and my collaborators and My peers and my mentors—and to see them all in passing or because we just shared sweaty space together is so special and I don't think any other place is quite going to be like that.
DNA gave me my first break. It’s been my home, my laboratory, my theater, my social landscape. It’s really the place where I find my community.
We thought of DNA, the way that people talk about the banks being too big to fail, and I think we thought that DNA is too big to fail. And it turns out that DNA is not.
I'm going to miss this space, but it feels like a very passionate, powerful mixture right now.
It’s a lot of love. You know, a lot of love for what we had here and love for each other, knowing that we are what’s going on.
There's no more building for us, but we're starting to realize, i think that we weren't a building. We were a community and we still are and we need to really hold on to each other and go somewhere else.
Behind the scenes:
When I heard that DNA was closing down, I expected to find a building lined with moving boxes as dancers, instructors and administrators somberly prepared to make their exit from a building that they had called their home for over two decades. But that wasn’t the case: DNA was determined to keep their spirits high. Classes were still scheduled two days before the organization was scheduled to move out of its space. Of course there were tears, but the building was filled with positive energy in spite of the nonprofit's fate. By the end of the shoot, It was clear to me that DNA was, as Alexandra Beller said in her interview, "a community— and not just a building."
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