Small Dance Businesses in Minnesota Push to Repair the Damage

Dance organizations that were already compromised by COVID-19 are now responding to police violence and community unrest—and in some cases, damage to their spaces.

A boarded up building with a sign–"Ananya Dance Theatre"—on top. The boards have murals saying "Black Lives Matter," "Justice for George Floyd" and more.
Ananya Dance Theatre’s floor-to-ceiling window was destroyed during protests. Photo by Kathy Mcp, Courtesy of Ananya Dance Theatre

In Minnesota, nearly a dozen dance organizations and studios are navigating both the coronavirus crisis and community upheaval in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

As Dance Teacher reported in June, rogue protestors damaged several Twin Cities dance buildings, including Ananya Dance Theatre and The Cassandra School. Choreographer Rosy Simas watched her family’s Native-American nonprofit burn to the ground. Other South Minneapolis studios near a torched police precinct were physically spared, but their leaders remain shaken.

At a time when small dance businesses are already struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic, the unrest sparked by George Floyd’s murder has added to their uncertainty. Here’s how two Twin Cities dance organizations are coping.

Ananya Dance Theatre

“I ask myself how dance needs to change to be in alignment with the current movements on the ground,” says Ananya Chatterjea, artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre, whose window was destroyed during the protests. More than ever, she’s connecting with BIPOC healers, therapists and other artists to discuss the tumultuous present and future projects.

4 people in masks paint the mural on the side of Ananya Dance Theatre that says "Justice for George Floyd."
Community members came together in support of Ananya. Photo by Kathy Mcp, Courtesy of Ananya Dance Theatre

Meanwhile, Ananya managing director Gary Peterson has been making sure dancers are paid for the work they continue to do, including developing new work and teaching online classes. “Maintaining this at a time of no income is hard, but something we are trying very hard to keep going,” says Chatterjea.

Peterson says the school and company have had $50,000 in project-based revenue postponed to 2021, and need to raise $20,000 by December to break even. To help the company bridge the gap, several funders allowed Ananya to convert project-based grant funding into general operating support, with an understanding that projects will move forward in 2021.

Three other major funders—The Ford Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the McKnight Foundation—all supplied operating expense support.

The question now is how to replace Ananya’s floor-to-ceiling window. While Ananya’s landlord and the landlord’s insurers are handling the insurance claim, there’s still the tricky matter of finding the correct-size glass. “The logistical issue for many around both cities is waiting to secure glass in all the correct sizes,” says Peterson.

The front of Ananya, before it was boarded up, with one large window broken and signs and graffiti on other windows.
The destroyed window at Ananya. Photo by Kathy Mcp, Courtesy of Ananya Dance Theatre

Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre and School

G. Michael Bargas, managing director of Zorongo Flamenco in South Minneapolis, knows he’s very lucky not to be on the phone with his insurance broker right now; his company’s studio was spared the night that many other buildings in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis were set ablaze. For Bargas, it’s heartbreaking to see so many minority-owned businesses damaged, even though the majority of demonstrators were peaceful. “I’ve done a lot of soul searching,” he says.

Zorongo shares a complex with Mactír Academy of Irish Dance and a professional cycling studio. They had prepared for the worst, and two days after Floyd was killed, Zorongo evacuated all flamenco skirts from the building.

“The majority of our costumes are from Spain,” Bargas says. “The batos—those are quite expensive, those were the things we were most worried about.”

No buildings in the complex were harmed, and for that, Bargas has his neighbor who owns The Fix Studio to thank. “He actually stood guard on the roof of the building every night. Every time he would see someone, he shined a flashlight, and people would run. He was the guardian of the block.”

But when in-person classes resume, will students be wary of the neighborhood, with its burned-down Auto-Zone, police station and post office? Bargas is hopeful that most will eventually return.

Each week, he takes encouragement from a Zoom call, organized by Tapestry Folk Dance Center, that unites leaders from about two dozen dance organizations across the Twin Cities to discuss ways of moving forward. Topics have ranged from a guide to purchasing webcast equipment to best practices for disinfecting floors.

“Instead of being in these little silos that everybody was in prior to COVID-19, the silos are being broken down,” Bargas says. “There was always a sense of community here, but nothing like this.”

Bargas, too, is grateful to the McKnight Foundation, which pledged additional aid and relaxed logistics in a letter to arts grantees in April. All organizations who received a two-year grant in 2018 for general operating expenses have automatically seen that funding renewed for a third year.

“We are fortunate,” Bargas says. “We are in a good position to ride this out.”

Rebecca J. Ritzel is a Washington, DC–based freelance arts writer and a former resident of Minnesota.