Behind the scenes at Brighton’s new dance centre

A group of 17 smiling people arranged on red and green viewing seats in one of the studios
Raring to go: the South East Dance team, with Executive Director Rachel Gibson (front centre) and Artistic Director Cath James (second from right, second row). Photo credit: Jessica Millberg.

Tucked in the centre of the new Circus Street development in Brighton is an exciting new building, known as The Dance Space, the long-awaited headquarters of South East Dance. Built on the site of the former fruit and vegetable market, The Dance Space, together with neighbouring student buildings, cafés and a grassed courtyard space, will make up an ‘innovative quarter’ for the city. Before its official opening in July, I was given a look behind the scenes with the Artistic Director, Cath James. 

It is a hive of activity, as the team prepare for the official launch of the building on 15 July. A weekend of free dance activities is planned – Our City Dances – involving people from all parts of the city community.

As we walked into the first of three large, airy studios, the Aldridge Community Space, Cath said one of the key aims of South East Dance is to welcome as many community groups as possible, of all ages and abilities, and to encourage a range of dance styles, including contemporary, ballet, hip hop and classical Indian dance. 

A dance in colourful clothes executes a backwards move in a large airy glass-walled studio
Valerie Ebuwa in the Aldridge Community Space. Photo credit: Rosie Powell.

This room has been equipped with a sprung floor, barres at two levels, wall-sized mirrors and curtains. Floor-to-ceiling windows and folding doors open on to the square, so performances can move outside and be more visible to spectators. 

Currently testing out the huge, light-filled space are a range of groups, including a local nursery, boys’ movement classes, Project Female dance company for young women, Parable Dance for young people and adults with learning disabilities, and Three Score Dance for older adults. 

Cath said: “Feedback from these groups is proving really valuable about what works well or less well, and helping us make adjustments where needed.” 

A dance in Indian dress performs a traditional dance in one of the studios
Anusha Subramanyam in the Weston Research Space. Photo credit: Danny Fitzpatrick.

Next door is the Weston Research Space, designed for professional dancers to develop and practise new work. South East Dance is extending its support for gifted dance artists and marginalised or minority groups. Propel, a new programme currently in its planning stages, will support young dancers holistically, with advice on healthy eating and careers as well as dance classes. 

Upstairs (accessible by lift) is the third studio, the Jamie Watton Creation Space, named after Cath’s predecessor, who died soon after the building’s foundation stone had been laid. This is an impressively large, double-height studio, with retractable seating for over 100, full sound and lighting rig for performances, and textured walls for aerial work. 

Two elderly women are helped by other women to dance
Brooke Mead Extra Care Facility residents at The Dance Space. Photo credit: Danny Fitzpatrick.

During my visit, aerialist performers Lindsey Butcher and Lee Clayden from Gravity and Levity Vertical Dance Company were warming up for a rehearsal. Lindsey was enthusiastic about the versatility of the space for practitioners like herself. 

The rest of the building has been configured in ingenious ways to include a large, sunny meeting room overlooking the outdoor green space, smaller meeting areas and an attractive ‘green room’ for performers to gather, work and relax. In the future, some small rooms will become bedrooms for artists in residence. Cath also showed me an enormous space which they hope will house an arts company, bringing the possibility of multi-disciplinary arts work. 

The outside of the new The Dance Space in Brighton. The interior has been designed to help those who are visually as well as physically impaired as part of its aim to be fully accessible to all the community.
Brighton’s innovative new The Dance Space – opening its doors to the public for the first time in July. Photo credit: Danny Fitzpatrick.

The Dance Space itself is a beautiful contemporary building, awarded a rating for its environmentally sustainable features, the interior designed by experts, including architects shedkm, to be fully accessible. All the studios, meeting areas, changing and shower rooms, and even kitchens have wheelchair accessibility. The distinctive colour scheme of charcoal, green and orange throughout is to help the memory- and visually-impaired.

The potential to develop dance in the community, with The Dance Space as the hub, is enormous (rooms can be hired out to local groups). I was really impressed, not only with the stunning building itself, but the inclusive approach of Cath and the team. The Welcome Project aims to build outreach work and links with organisations in the local community, such as housing schemes, the unemployed centre and youth groups. 

The Dance Space has been a long time in the making. It will make a vibrant contribution to Brighton and Hove’s thriving arts scene in the future. 

Many thanks to Georgina Harris and Cath James at South East Dance for arranging the visit. South East Dance is an arts charity supported by the Arts Council, Brighton and Hove City Council and range of charitable organisations. Contact the team on: hello@southeastdance.org.uk

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