A Home for Dance in New York City’s Fastest Growing Neighborhood
Here’s how Valerie Green set up a surprisingly affordable rental studio just a stone’s throw from Manhattan—and created a home for her own dance company, too.
Affordable rehearsal/performance space in New York City might seem like an oxymoron. But in Long Island City, Queens, Green Space has been providing dance creators with 24-hour access to studio space for prices starting as low as $10 an hour since 2005.
That business model is currently on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But when Green Space operates in its normal capacity, it is a little dance ecosystem, with one dance business nurturing a community of other fledgling dance enterprises—the creation of Valerie Green, executive director of Dance Entropy Inc.
Right now, along with the rest of the dance community, Green Space is going through difficult times, facing losses in studio rental income and the cancellation of studio performance programs, company residencies, performances, outreach programs, an annual gala and tours. An emergency operating reserve—a lifesaver for covering rent, utilities, expenses and payroll—is keeping Green Space and its parent organization Dance Entropy Inc. above water until additional grant funding is approved to help cover the loss of income. Green is hopeful that Green Space will return to flourish as it did before the stay-at-home mandate began.
“Valerie has made a commitment to the dance field to keep Green Space affordable to renters,” says Emily Bunning, who had been renting rehearsal space for her dance-theater company since Green Space first opened its doors. “It is very well run, a gorgeous, big, nearly unobstructed space, with a great floor and inspiring views of the city. It’s our oasis where we get to leave current affairs behind to be immersed in our art and create.”
A Home for Dance
Green Space got its start when Green’s career plan hit a roadblock in the early 2000s. She had plans to become the owner of the SoHo dance studio that she had been managing for about a decade. But then the building was sold for luxury condos. “That’s when I decided I would open my own studio,” Green says. Her vision was to find a new, permanent home for Dance Entropy, the professional modern dance company she started in 1998, and to provide rental space for other dancemakers, too.
Green set her sights on Long Island City (LIC), a redeveloped industrial area along the East River that was growing by leaps and bounds—an ideal environment for any startup business. Green’s business goal was simple: Build it and they will come. “It was a very strategic decision to plan to go to Long Island City,” she says. “I wanted to build a studio where there was a need, and this was an up-and-coming neighborhood.”
Location, Location, Location
Choosing the right location for a business is one of the most crucial decisions an owner has to make. The right mix of factors for your business—residents’ demographics, nearby public transportation, neighboring businesses, cost, a building’s infrastructure, and even its cachet—can all set you up for success.
Many of Long Island City’s late-19th- and 20th-century industrial buildings have been repurposed over the last few decades into galleries, museums and studios, starting with the initial visionary move in 1976 by the Museum of Modern Art when it opened P.S. 1 inside an 84,000-square-foot former public school constructed in 1892. It’s been a slow transition for the neighborhood, but LIC now has one of the most exciting arts scenes in New York City.
LIC is also one of the fastest-growing urban neighborhoods in the U.S., with more than 14,000 new apartments added in the past decade and another 19,000 planned or under construction, brokerage firm Douglas Elliman Real Estate reports—in other words, a continually growing market of potential customers.
The Real Estate Transaction
Green learned that The Silks Building, a 100-year-old, four-story textile factory, had been acquired in 2004 for redevelopment into lofts and small offices. The longtime tenant, Scalamandre Silks, had supplied textiles to the White House, Hearst Castle and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Green knew immediately she had found something special. “When I saw the building and saw the space, it was exactly what I wanted for the studio,” Green says. “It was the feel of how it used to be in SoHo—just this beautiful loft space.” What’s more, it was just a 10-minute walk from the nearest subway station.
Green set to work with a real estate lawyer to negotiate her first five-year lease, becoming one of the first tenants of the 120,000-square-foot building in 2005. (She’s since renewed her lease three times, the latest for another five years.) Green did not have a formal business plan; she used her own money to provide the deposit. “I am a good businesswoman, but I’m also an artist, and both are the key to my survival,” she says, noting that being an artist and running a successful dance business aren’t mutually exclusive endeavors.
Green, together with her boyfriend at the time, built out the entire space using recycled and repurposed materials. “We did everything from the floors, to painting, to the curtains, to the risers,” she says. Thinking ahead, Green worked early on with a consultant and “planned all the electrical, both for the opening of the studio and for what it would need in the future as our programming and needs would grow.”
The Studio Space
Green Space’s mission is to be a place for dancers, choreographers, teachers and community members to gather and experience dance where it’s created. Its studio is 29 by 40 feet with 14-foot ceilings and sprung maple floors. Renters reserve space via an online calendar. The studio converts to a formal performance space with seating for 70, with risers, wings, a front curtain, lighting, sound, video projection and a dressing room. It can be rented, too, and Green has also created two monthly performance programs for emerging and established choreographers to present their work. Fertile Ground gives five artists the chance to present a work-in-progress and receive audience feedback in a postperformance discussion moderated by Green. Take Root is a curated series that supports dancemakers with technical and marketing support for a paired evening of work. So far, both programs have showcased 979 choreographers in 14 years.
Launching the Nonprofit
With the opening of Green Space, Green recognized that creating a nonprofit organization made the most sense; among other things, it would address any potential liability issues. Dance Entropy Inc.—the umbrella organization to Green Space and Green’s dance company—officially gained its nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status in 2007. “I wanted to make a foundation underneath everything I was doing, and I wanted to make it sustainable,” Green says. “I can now really artistically create what I want because I have a solid home base.”
Achieving that dream hasn’t been without challenges. The first several years after Green Space opened, Green worked multiple dance-related side jobs so she could make ends meet. Even now, while Green Space plays a huge role in Dance Entropy Inc.’s mission, the rental income from over 350 renters only covers a portion of the monthly lease. The nonprofit relies heavily on grants and fundraising, including state and city funding and corporate sponsorships, for the majority of its income. The largest expenditures are the lease and salaries for Green, who works full-time, her two part-time staff (a programs manager and a company manager) and nine dancers.
Green’s company of nine dancers, now called Valerie Green/Dance Entropy, uses Green Space as its home base. VG/DE offers a summer intensive and provides 10 scholarships to Queens students each year. It also reaches 4,000 community members annually through its outreach programs, which involve performances and workshops for underserved populations, including at-risk youth, trauma survivors, senior citizens and the disabled.
Bunning, now a Dance Entropy Inc. board member in addition to being a regular Green Space renter, says she has found it exciting to observe Green as she continues to grow the nonprofit’s reach. “She not only provides a supportive space for works-in-progress, but her presenting series and festivals have benefited so many artists and really brought in a diverse community of theatergoers,” she says. “I admire how she not only engages the Queens community at her space, but also with her outreach activities, giving seniors and underserved populations an opportunity to see and experience dance.”
Hannah Maria Hayes has an M.A. in dance education from NYU and writes frequently for DanceMedia publications.