Creating the Dream Studio
Decisions behind four recent renovations
As anyone who has opened a dance studio knows, there’s more to think about than just location and class offerings. A plethora of decisions need to be made, from designing the floor plan, selecting materials and evaluating acoustics to purchasing and installing equipment. And once the studio is up and running, the desire to renovate or relocate eventually brings many of these same issues to the forefront.
When Cindy Clough was designing a new building space for her Just For Kix studio in Brainerd, Minnesota, she realized quickly that there was more to it than meets the eye. “You need to consider everything, such as coat racks, benches, message boards, things you don’t necessarily think of when renovating,” she says. “We totally built a new studio from scratch.”
With 17,000 square feet, the new space is now more than twice its former size. Total cost of construction? $2,250,000. “With our budget, we did everything on our wish list, but I do wish we would have researched a bit more,” Clough says. “In retrospect, there are things we would have done, but did not think of at the time.”
One of those things was storage, and as a result she was forced to give up two dressing rooms for storage space. She also uses space in a warehouse across town to keep seasonal items.
Clough also had a challenge with acoustics. “It’s a very warehouse look, all brick outside with arched windows round at the top. Inside, our ceilings are really high to keep that warehouse look, but that’s the one thing I had a hard time with when we switched,” she says. “I felt like acoustics were a problem, and in retrospect, I would have done that differently.”
To fix the problem, she added acoustic panels and drapes, but that added even more expense to the project.
Of course, there was plenty to be excited about. She installed mirrors on three sides of the studios, 12 inches from the floor, allowing her to see dancers from every angle.
“Our bifold door has proved to be a godsend; we are able to go from three to four studios,” she says.
The budget also allowed for some great additions and upgrades from her last studio. There’s a coffee bar with a state-of-the-art latte/espresso machine, and the studio has an additional heat source for hot yoga. There’s also great use of color.
“I feel our color palette is beautiful. We went with a violet, ballet pink and black with silver accents. All our doors are silver, and we used a metallic silver paint in accent areas,” she says. “It’s all very trendy and chic. It has a warm atmosphere. I love the outside brick and dentil molding, and the curved windows are beautiful.”
Consider the challenges facing Loni Lane, owner of the Noretta Dunworth School of Dance in Dearborn, Michigan, when she decided to upgrade.“My mother started the studio, and we had been in the same location for 25 years, but we were limited by the space,” Lane says. “We were at 2,500 square feet and we found a place that was 10,000 square feet. It was a dream I always had and I went for it.”
With a budget surpassing $1 million, the project began in January 2011, and thanks to a contractor friend, the massive renovation of a former Boys & Girls Club of America building they purchased was completed in time to hold classes less than 10 months later.
“The place was a disaster. We needed new plumbing and electric, windows were busted out; it was in bad shape, but the structure was great and the configuration of the rooms was wonderful,” Lane says. “We took the ceilings out, added a parking lot, changed the AC unit and made a beautiful girls’ dressing room in a 75′ x 50′ room.”
When it was time to choose the flooring for the studio, Lane chose to go with a Stagestep Springstep IV subflooring, being drawn to its durability and the fact that you can just simply clip the 2′ x 2′ panels together without screws. “We had the whole 10,000 square feet installed in four days,” Lane says. “And if we need to pull it up, we can, since it’s not permanent.” (Note: Lane chose vinyl top-flooring and was also required to put a vapor barrier in between the concrete and Springstep subfloors to control moisture.)
When Lane began teaching at her mother’s studio, the barres were already in place, so she had a tough time choosing what to use for her new studio. “I never had to deal with that before, since ours were cemented in and were metal,” she says. She also wasn’t certain how much space to allow when mounting the barres on the wall.
“My contractor installed the ballet barres and used stock handrails and stock brackets. I only checked on the diameter of the wood unfortunately, not on the distance from the wall,” she says. “When classes started, it was difficult to place feet on the barre and hands were also too close, so I had them come back and extend them so we got six more inches.
Another mistake was a paint decision. “I went with an eggshell finish, which looks really classy. But you can’t really wipe it off, so we get lots of fingerprints and footprints,” Lane says. “I wish I had put it at least five feet up on the walls and maybe carpeting or a Formica surface on the wall, so kids leaning against it or putting their feet up wouldn’t damage it.”
Throughout the process, Lane was faced with many decisions that concerned things she had never previously thought of. For instance, she chose crank paper dryers in the bathroom to help limit puddles on the floor; she went against soap dispensers, which were harder to maintain than bottles of pump hand soap; and she chose carpet squares over tile in the nondance space, because it was easier to replace each square if something got dirty.
“One of the things that people warned me against was adding a viewing window,” Lane says. “They said, ‘Kids are always looking up and don’t pay attention,’ so we have no viewing window here.”
Starting With a Blank Slate
Taking the opposite approach to the observation window was Andrea Paris-Gutierrez, who recently moved and renovated a new building for her Los Angeles Ballet Academy in Encino, California. “One of the things I love about the new studio is that when younger children walk in, they can look through the observation windows at the older children,” Paris-Gutierrez says. “It’s really important for students to connect—even visually—and I think this is a great way to do that.”
Paris-Gutierrez had not been eager to move, because her space at the time was only six years old. But the city had purchased her building and forced them out. “We had just gone through a big move not too long ago, so I left my old place kicking and screaming,” she says. “But since it was partly the city’s responsibility to find us a new space and give financial assistance, we found a great space.”
She says, “The new building was a completely blank palette and even had dirt on the floor.” At 8,045 square feet, the school gained 2,000 square feet and the project took nine months to complete.
“One interesting thing we did was we built a second level off to one side and put in a movable wall and soundproofed the downstairs, so we have two main studios,” she says.
Project architect Robert Elbogen explains that the wall does not rest on the floor at all. “The weight of the partitions is fully hanging from the massive steel beams we installed above the ceiling,” he says. “The wall panels are constructed of steel mini beams (studs) supporting the wall sheeting. The sound-reducing panels are on rollers and can be moved and stacked into a small receptacle (almost like a closet) on one side of the room for when we open the room up for master classes or events. When the panels are in (so that we have the two-room setup), each panel locks down to the floor for maximum sound filtering.”
For the downstairs dance floors, Paris-Gutierrez installed beige Harlequin Studio flooring—a vinyl surface composed of four layers to offer dancers extra cushioning—on top of a Bolo-brand, basket-weave floor. One of the earliest forms of sprung flooring, a basket-weave floor consists of several layers of overlapping wood, with foam rubber overlapping underneath.
In the upstairs studio, they use a multipurpose flooring that is very durable and appropriate for a variety of dance styles. Paris-Gutierrez insulated the floors with R-13 across the entire space. “This drastically mutes sound from transferring below (for the upstairs studio) and will give a crisp, not hollow, sound when tap dancing is done on it,” she says.
Paris-Gutierrez chose a gray marble finish, which helps with camouflaging scuff marks. “I love it and I think it’s very consistent,” she says. “The ballet dancers don’t like it as much because they think it’s too slippery. However, with the many surfaces ballet dancers often have to deal with at performances, auditions and competitions, having some variety is good for them to be adaptable.”
Photo: courtesy of Just For Kix