Mac dance makes a move

Dance studio construction progresses, opens new doors for program


Quinn Stafford

A lone worker tugs on a segment of rope atop a boom lift on March 10 while the dance studio’s metal framing looms above. Since, construction for the studio’s exterior has progressed, and the dance teachers have begun ordering everything from shelves to paints in preparation for its opening next spring.

Students showed up at McCallum after summer break to find a parking lot missing and a new dance building under construction, an effect of the 2017 bond finally breaking ground.

“A dance studio is something that the school [and] the dance department has been advocating for since they started the Fine Arts Academy because there was no real dance studio here,” dance program director Natalie Uehara said. “The space that we use now is borrowed from the theater.”

I’m excited to have a new space to dance in and to have more space and room to learn in.

— junior dance major El McGinnis

Students are currently dancing in the old building that they call the “black box” which includes only a couple of mirrors, minimal equipment and no dressing rooms. According to dance teacher Rachel Murray, the black box was built to be a small, intimate performance space, not a classroom.

“We were loaned the space by theatre when we moved into it, and we raised funds as a program to outfit it into a dance space,” Murray said. “It was being used as a shop space for technical theatre.”

Mac dancers hope that a new dance studio with adequate space and equipment will improve the level of performance and attract younger dancers to the Fine Arts Academy. McCallum dancers also hope it will make being in the dance program a more enjoyable experience.

“I’m excited to have a new space to dance in and to have more space and room to learn in,” junior dance major El McGinnis said.

After five years of planning, dance studio construction broke ground at the beginning of this school year. The studio is far from complete, but the workers are there daily and the program hopes to finish construction by spring of 2024. Once dancers move to their new location, the black box will be open to other fine arts classes around McCallum.

A dance studio is something that the school [and] the dance department has been advocating for since they started the Fine Arts Academy.

— dance program director Natalie Uehara

“The addition to the MAC theater will provide two dance studios for our school,” assistant principal Andy Baxa said. “This will free up the spaces dance currently occupies for other programs. For example, athletics will not need to share the field house and the theater will have increased access to the black box again.”

As is clear from the structure visible currently, the building will be two stories. The downstairs floor will contain two studios connected by a narrow storage area to store class supplies. The upstairs floor will house the dressing rooms with lockers and showers, the directors’ offices and a costume closet.

The studios will have windows in the dance rooms and ballet barres built into the walls, and the floors will be sprung and covered with permanent marley. The program will bring supplies and equipment from their current space to the new one.

“We do have flooring in the black box that we put in there that is expensive,” Uehara said. We’re going to be taking that out so we can keep it.”

But while the dance studio will be beneficial to the dance department, the construction has not been without its costs. The noise from the site has impacted instruction in the MAC.

“During tech theatre, I sometimes hear loud sounds coming from the construction site,” freshman Iris LaRue said. “It can sometimes be a distraction, so Ill be glad when the construction is over.” 

The dance studio emerges in the distance from a sea of equipment and pylons laid out before it. Hundreds of poles, bars, and tools can be seen beside the fine arts parking lot, waiting to be incorporated into the growing structure. (Quinn Stafford)

The construction site has also made student parking a challenge. The site has taken away a common parking spot from many students, which forces them to park farther away, taking longer to get from class to class. Students needing to get to the practice fields or field house for early morning practice have to park further away from the campus and access it from the street.

“It takes 10 minutes to get to class and to the field house because you have to walk the whole thing,” sophomore Blue Brigade dancer Smith Bohls said.

The lost parking lot has created other opportunity costs for student drivers.

It takes 10 minutes to get to class and to the field house because you have to walk the whole thing.

— sophomore Blue Brigade dancer Smith Bohls

“I used to practice my driving over the summer in that parking lot and due to the construction, it makes it more difficult.” LaRue said.

With the parking lot gone, Baxa said the parking situation will continue to be an issue here at McCallum.

“We will gain some of the spots in the parking lot north of MAC but we will lose about 20 spots,” Baxa said.

For some dance students, having a dedicated dance studio, especially at a Fine Arts Academy, makes the parking challenge worth it.

“A lot of the dancers are looking forward to having a new space and it is a big step for Mac dance,” McGinnis said.

For Murray, the new dance studio is starting to feel real. both of the dance teachers have started picking out furniture and deciding how to design the small waiting areas in the hallways. In Murray’s mind, the new dance studio will be a game changer for the dance department.

“It’s not just about having a new space, it’s about having our own dedicated space,” Murray said. “We will have a facility that has two dance studios, on par with other high school performing arts programs in the country. Our dance majors have never had their own dressing area, which has been such a challenge, and we won’t have to carry our stuff with us back and forth all day long as we go from one space to another. Plus, I am thrilled we will be able to free space up to other programs. Many other programs need space also, and this frees up space to help with that.”

Having a dedicated space for dance demonstrates that dance, as an art form, matters in our Fine Arts Academy.

— dance instructor Rachel Murray

The dance program hopes that the new dance studio will inspire younger students to join dance and grow the program. After beginning construction during the summer, Uehara is excited to get a new space to teach in. Air conditioning in the field house, where Uehara currently teaches, is inconsistent and provides a difficult environment for dancers to dance in. Uehara feels that a new dance studio is necessary because the black box theater and fieldhouse where McCallum’s two dance instructors are teaching in currently aren’t equipped for dancing.

“To have a dedicated studio for the Fine Arts Academy is so important and hopefully it will draw other people from around the district to come to McCallum,” Uehara said.

Although the new dance studio has been a long time coming, the dance teachers agree it’s better late than never. With the opening of the dance studio less than a year away the dance department can hardly wait.

“Excited is an understatement,” Murray said. “The dance majors at McCallum having a dedicated space for dance demonstrates that dance, as an art form, matters in our Fine Arts Academy. This building will finally provide dancers with an appropriate space for our craft and will affirm that what they and we do matters here at McCallum.”

— with reporting by Iris LaRue, Darby Roldan and Quinn Stafford