New dance building would soothe feet

by Becca Teale

The woman with the sweat-soaked, shiny-blue leotard stuck to her stomach stopped her routine Friday to take several swigs of water. Her wide-legged black pants concealed the ankles she so diligently tapes before every modern dance class.
Jessica Mahr and her barefoot classmates jumped, twirled and kicked through their 10-minute routine on the wood-covered concrete floor in the 63-year-old Norris Hall gymnasium. It was the same floor upon which only moments before, 10 men wearing thick-soled, cushioned tennis shoes played basketball.
Head of the dance program Marge Maddux said the dance students face unsafe conditions and inconveniences at the gym. Next month, Maddux hopes the problems will be eliminated when the Board of Regents votes on plans to construct a new dance building.
If approved, the more than $3 million structure would be built on the corner of 21st and Riverside avenues. A parking lot now occupies that plot of land.
The building has been dubbed the “Weisman of the West Bank” and Maddux said the design by Joan Soranno of the Hammel Green & Abrahamson Architectural Firm is “dynamic.”
“The design uses elements of motion,” Maddux said. “It will be a very exciting place for our students to create in. It will say to them they can dare to be exciting. It will be an inspiration for the dancers.”
The building would have three dance studios, a performance space and, eventually, an outside amphitheater.
But more important to dance students and instructors, it would provide an escape from Norris Hall. They said the building has unsatisfactory dance surfaces, filthy surroundings and poor ventilation.
Lance Brockman, chairman of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, said dance instruction was originally a part of women’s physical education classes. Norris housed those classes in what was used solely as a women’s gym. He said dance classes at that time were treated as an activity rather than an art form.
Since then, the gym has been used by athletes such as basketball players. Ten years ago, the founding of the University’s dance program put dancers in the gym.
There are now two gyms and two dance studios in Norris Hall, each with a different type of flooring. Maddux said none of the floors are ideal for dancing.
One of the gyms has a vinyl dance floor covering wood and concrete. The other gym — where Mahr rehearses on Fridays — has no padding atop the floor.
“We have had several injuries because of the floors,” Maddux said. “It’s hard on the dancers’ feet, knees and hips, and most of them would say they have lower back pain. A two- hour rehearsal is the limit for them.”
Kinesiologist Michael Wade said the gym floor, not specially designed for dancing, is a problem for dancers unable to wear cushioned shoes. He said jumping and dancing on the hard floor causes bruising and shock to the knees and hips.
The two studios, one of which has a spring floor, are slightly better equipped, but are also less than satisfactory, Maddux said.
Even the spring floor is a problem. Over the hard gym floor, she said it has too much spring, which causes the dancers to sink down and have difficulty jumping.
Maddux said what the dancers need is a floor with rigidity, but still some give.
Co-presidents of the Student Dance Coalition Mahr and Laura Selle said space is another problem. They said the studios somewhat compensate for the unsafe floors of the gyms, but the long, narrow rooms are too small for classes.
“We have one of two choices: a studio with a decent floor and no space, or a gym with a lot of room and a horrible floor,” said Joelle Worm, a freshman dance student.
While attributing the age of Norris to the problems of the dancers, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Eric Kruse said he is unaware of any formal complaints filed about the conditions.
With only one janitor on duty at Norris, sanitation of the gyms and studios is another concern.
Worm and fellow student Naomi Kengas, a freshman in CLA, sum up the dance accommodations with one word: dirty.
“No one disinfects the floor,” Worm said. “We share with basketball players who sweat and drip all over, then we go in there and do our stuff — rolling on the floor and sliding in their sweat. We’ve had problems with athlete’s foot, lice and even ringworm.”