Over the years, choreographer, dance artist, and educator Stephanie Gilliland realized she wanted a few things for her future: she wanted to leave southern California, she wanted to live in Portland, and she wanted to open a dance studio. For more than six years, she and her husband waited for the right opportunity to make that dream come true. And, earlier this month, she and her small team of dancers made a big step in toward success.
FLOOR Center for Dance opened its doors on November 3, billed as a training center dancers of all ages, abilities, and skill levels, and "a space for growth, exploration, and experimentation in movement arts." To find the space means navigating a Dali-esque series of hallways and unexpected art galleries in an old, labyrinthine building a stone’s throw from Cathedral Park in St. Johns. But inside, FLOOR's high ceilings and red brick walls mark a welcome addition to the city's beleaguered dance community.
It’s a moment to celebrate for Portland dancers and dance fans still reeling from the loss of Conduit, which had operated in Portland for more than two decades before shuttering in 2016, and a series of closures that saw companies like NW Dance Project, Polaris, and even the Oregon Ballet Theatre forced to relocate.“It was interesting looking for space," Gilliland says. "A lot of people didn’t want to rent to a dance studio. This is why it’s such an expensive art form. Dancers need a space and a good floor, or they can’t work. You can do alternative and site-specific, but you can’t do really foundational work without that."
Though still in its growing phase, Gilliland and the team have ambitious plans to transform the space into a haven for dancers. Classes are offered for all experience levels and all ages, ranging from ballet to yoga to dance fitness. Tentative future plans include bringing in guest artists to teach limited-run classes (a Lady Gaga-inspired session, anyone?).
Gilliland has yet to actually relocate to Portland, though she plans to change that in the near future. However, she visits every summer to teach classes, where she’s noticed a general shift in attitude. “The dance scene is changing in Portland," she says. "The way I work and teach is very physical, and [before] there were only a handful of people interested in working that way. There’s trends in dance and there used to be a trend that was more conceptual and less physical. [Now] there are way more dancers who recognize that there’s value in cultivating your instrument. There’s more and more interest in developing the body.”
Gilliland plans for the space to become home to Tongue Dance Project, a rebirth of TONGUE/Contemporary Dance, a company headed for several years by Gilliland, with a focus on the creation and production of Gilliland's work. Eventually, she wants to begin offering work-in-progress shows, contact improv jams on select nights, and space for visiting artists to showcase their work.
FLOOR instructor Adrianna Audoma, who has been dancing since she was 7 years old, says: “We want to offer something for everybody. We want to bring in someone off the street who’s never taken a dance class and is timid about it. We want them to come in and move, as well as professionals.”
For now, however, the main focus is on filling the classes. FLOOR has a complete list of classes (several of which are donation-based, for anyone ready to dance and lacking the necessary chowder) on its website, running all day between Monday and Saturday. If all goes according to plan, that list will just keep growing.