Kansas City Ballet is expanding its footprint with bigger studios and a more inclusive mission
Kansas City Ballet is expanding its South Campus, located in Prairie Village's Meadowbrook Shopping Center, at 95th Street and Nall Avenue. The reimagined building allows the school to offer a wider range of classes for children and adults.
Kansas City Ballet will reopen later this month its $2.1 million South Campus, at 95th Street and Nall Avenue in Prairie Village, Kansas.
The Ballet has operated a dance school at the location since 2002, but a $2.1 million expansion and renovation of the facility will double the number of studios and more than triple its square footage — from 3,400 square feet to almost 12,000 square feet.
Scaffolding still covered the building on July 12, when Chief Operations Officer Kevin Amey led staff on a tour of large studios, dressing rooms, and modern waiting and administrative areas, all designed by the Kansas City-founded architecture firm BNIM.
"They are virtually done," Amey said. "There's a couple little nips and tucks we're doing, but we cannot get into the space until we can get the scaffolding off the side of the building and they finish all the work they're doing because it's right above our heads as we walk into our front door."
It was the first week of work for the Ballet’s new executive director, David Gray, who was still in the process of meeting employees.
Gray said ballet will always be at the core of the school's curriculum, but he’s pleased that the redesigned space will allow it to offer a broader range of dance classes that go beyond traditional ballet, including flamenco, jazz, tap and even yoga.
“One of the things that really excites me about the Kansas City Ballet is our mission doesn't actually mention ballet,” Gray explained. “It says 'dance,' and so that gives us the freedom to do a lot of things that maybe folks don't realize we do.”
Artistic Director Devon Carney, seeing the reimagined building for the first time, was especially impressed by the wide-open studios, unobstructed by support columns. Many of the new studios are roughly the same size as the classroom studios at the Ballet's headquarters, the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity, next to Union Station.
Carney said BNIM Director of Design Steve McDowell planned the space with dancers in mind.
“I’m floored,” Carney said with a laugh. “It's quite inspiring to see the space, and to see what potential it now has to bring to this community.”
The Ballet already offers adaptive dance classes at the Bolender Center, but the reimagined space will allow the school to expand programming this fall. Specialized equipment will help make classes more inclusive.
“We have the funding to put a permanent track in the studio with harnesses that will give kiddos with mobility issues opportunity to dance freely,” Chief Philanthropy Officer Jennifer Wampler said. “So we would be the first and only dance studio (in the metro) with that available so that everybody can dance.”
Carney said that the harness system allows more freedom of movement.
“It gives kids who may not necessarily be able to even walk be able to be a part of an experience dance because overhead rigging takes some of the weight out of their legs,” he said.
Nora Burkitt-Davis is the children's program and adaptive dance coordinator. She said her students at the Bolender Center age out of adaptive dance programs in their teenage years, but the South Campus will soon have classes to fill that gap.
“Just getting to see them continue, instead of being like, ‘Well, you're a teenager now and I'm sorry that you've lost this program,'" Burkitt-Davis said. “We’re now creating a little bit more accessibility to have these fun things that they love to do.”
Burkitt-Davis said including students in an activity that builds confidence and strength is important, and she sees growth in her students every day.
“There's a magical space for them to be themselves, as well as being empowered in an art form that wasn't previously open to them,” she said.
Gray said more inclusive programming is part of the organization's longterm plan.
"The Kansas City Ballet Board has been undergoing a yearlong committee structure to look into diversity, equity, access issues,” Gray said. “I’m thrilled to see that we're doing something, and not just talking about it.”
Finding ways to include students of all ages is important for Carney, the artistic director. And he's excited to offer classes to people with Parkinson’s disease.
“It's very moving when I think about that, because I have had some friends who have died from Parkinson's,” Carney said. “Movement helps with the ability to have cognitive thought ... and music gives you a chance to retain yourself longer and give you more mobility.”
He is most looking forward to September, when classes can begin in the new facility.
“We brought a lot of work to this building and now it's time for us to be able to serve this community in ways that we don't even know yet,” Carney said. “And that means a lot to me.”
Kansas City Ballet will host a grand opening, ribbon cutting, and open house at the South Campus at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, August 18, at 9415 Nall Ave., Ste. 100, Prairie Village, Kansas 66207. More information is at KCBallet.org.