Clichés about struggling artists are especially true in the dance world. Unless one is a dancer in a large company, a highly successful choreographer, or working commercially, money is always an issue. So is finding rehearsal and performance space. Second jobs are often necessary. It can be a lonely business.
Former Martha Graham dancer Jeanne Ruddy is looking to create a dance center at her Performance Garage, a theater and studio in the Spring Garden neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Renovations began Monday on the Garage, with a $500,000 grant from the City of Philadelphia Cultural and Commercial Corridors bond fund, aimed at revitalizing the area around North Broad Street.
BalletX rehearses in the Garage, and there is an outreach program with free classes for neighborhood children. It offers discounted studio space to dancers, and 6,000 audience members have seen dance concerts there. The renovations will reconfigure the space and make it comfortable for both artists and audiences.
"We took ownership of the building when it was an auto-body garage," Ruddy said of the space that opened in the 19th century as horse stables. She and her husband, Victor Keen, bought it in 2000, and for 12 years, it housed her former company, Jeanne Ruddy Dance. "The heating system is the same that was being used for the mechanics," she said. "The lighting and the heating are at least 50 years old.
"We started with the most pressing things," she said. "We needed air-conditioning. It was repeatedly written down to us on all our surveys in big letters."
She is also planning to offer a curated series of dance performances featuring local contemporary artists, most of whom don't have regular performance spaces. This could happen as soon as next year, she said.
"This would really benefit the dance community" in Philadelphia, said Randy Swartz, who has been involved with the Philadelphia dance scene for four decades. He is the artistic director of Dance Affiliates, which presents NextMove at the Prince Theater, a series featuring prominent national and international troupes.
Since the 1960s, Swartz said, there have been many attempts to find a home for local dance in Philadelphia. The larger companies have succeeded. But, as Swartz puts it, "everybody else has to catch as catch can."
The Garage should be air-conditioned in time for September's Fringe Festival. The interior space will also be reconfigured with a lobby for audiences, an extra row of seating, and state-of-the-art dance floors for both studios.
"But we won't have to sacrifice any of the tremendously large dance floor" in the main space, Ruddy said, noting that the stage is the same size as the one in New York's famed City Center theater.
Ruddy also applied for a $1 million grant from the State of Pennsylvania. If that comes through, she has eyes toward developing two additional unfinished floors, which could be rented out to Pilates studios, wellness centers, or other similar businesses.
"The whole building will be body-centric," she said.
The Performance Garage makes studio space affordable for dancers, Swartz said. In New York, by contrast, he said, there is space for dance, but "it costs too much money," even for some of the top troupes.
"All the good dance companies in New York," he said, "should just come here."