The 4 Most Bizarre Locations I’ve Had Dance Practice
Hot take: your dance practice can be plenty productive without a studio space.
Many studios are reopening and offering practice space to their dance-crazed students — at the same time, there are thousands of dancers in the United States still quarantined or helplessly deprived of the massive floor space they crave. Some of them have gotten creative while some of them waved a white flag.
But the purpose of this article isn’t to go on my usual tirade about “PRACTICE HARDER” and “NO EXCUSES.” It isn’t even to give suggestions on possible practice locations, given I’m not sure how genuinely I can recommend a few of these.
I’d just like to tell a few short stories about the weird places you might wind up when you commit to never skipping practice.
1: Planet Fitness at 3:00 AM.
Context: at the time, I was in a long-distance partnership. My partner was in town for four days and we had them as jam-packed with practice time as we could — this would be the last time we could dance together until the World Championships four weeks later.
Turns out, when you finish your lesson block at 11:00 PM and need to work on what you learned right away, your options are a bit slim. All of the dance studios were locked up, the yoga studios were closed, and my roommates were sound asleep.
The only place open within an hour’s drive was Planet Fitness, which, at this location, did not have a studio floor. You know those big foam floorboards that are shaped like puzzle pieces? Not great for dancing on.
But, the place was nearly abandoned, so the desk attendant — bless him — said we could move any of the equipment we needed. For the next four hours or so, the now ginormous space that used to be the free weights section became our home while sad-looking patrons filtered in and out to the faint rap music playing in the background. It actually wound up being a great practice, and we both got in a light workout to warm-up.
2. A (Hopefully) Abandoned Warehouse.
Mid-pandemic, it’s raining pretty hard outside, I had just had a lightbulb go off in my head about scattered chasse technique and decided that my solo practice that day had to be quickstep. If the weather were a little nicer I might have danced across the sidewalk outside, but instead, I went for a drive to look for ideas.
Well around 2:00 PM somewhere in St Paul, I found a big, empty hanger with its massive door open and not a car in sight. There was no gate to the parking lot, no indication that there was a business operating there, and it looked about as empty as could be, so I went in.
An hour and fifteen minutes of mostly quickstep later, I finished my practice and drove away. I never did see another person, but I secretly hope there were security cameras set up and some poor guard just watched me trespass in his building only to skip around the room like an idiot for 75 minutes and leave.
3. A Tennis Court, in the Middle of a Tennis Match.
Okay, maybe this one is a stretch because I left as soon as I realized there were people playing tennis on my court, but I was there first!
Like the last one, it’s mid-pandemic, and I wanted more space than my house could provide. It was a semi-regular event where I’d walk to the nearby park and use the tennis courts for solo practice, but this was the only time I had company. I had my headphones in and was doing drills at the edge of the court, facing away, then probably around 25 minutes into my practice turned around and saw two people in the heat of a tennis match not 20 feet away.
I was a bit shocked, both that people would walk up and just start playing tennis with someone on the court, but moreso that I have no idea how long they were there before I noticed. It must have been a while since I’d turned my head.
My only regret is not staying to finish practice — that would’ve been a hard flex.
4. The Kitchen Floor During “the Sniper Incident.”
My then-partner and I were both morning people, and we practiced at the University Recreation Center at 5:45 AM. Now, you would think at that hour, it’s pretty unlikely for anyone to stop you from coming to practice, but I was the first one there when a police officer stopped me at the door and said “You can’t go in th-- wait, how did you get through?”
It was dark out and very cold — I had my face buried in a scarf — and I had apparently walked past a police barricade without knowing it. There was a hostage situation in the hotel across the street so my regular practice space was closed off. I later found out it was because there was a police sniper stationed on the fourth floor of the building.
Anyway, they sent me away. I called my partner to explain and she sent someone to pick me up and drive me to her apartment. She made me avocado toast while my hands warmed up before we practiced our American Rumba in her very limited space.
The building stayed closed for the next five days so we rotated whose kitchen we used each time. They were not our most productive practices, but it was a whole lot safer than dancing near a sniper and an angry kidnapper who would later throw a microwave out the window.
So while I can’t recommend you go find the nearest tennis match or police sniper to motivate your practice, I can say that while half of the dancers in the country are stuck at home, you are not at all weird for dancing in your living room. It’s okay to take a break if you need to — we’re living in weird times. But if you’ve committed to practicing, then be prepared. You might be dancing in some weird places.
(Written for Sheer Dance March 2021)