Shortly before the start of the pandemic, Smuin Contemporary Ballet and the Smuin Center for Dance relocated to 1830 17th Street, between Rhode Island and De Haro. The Ballet was founded in 1994 by Michael Smuin, former choreographer and co-artistic director of San Francisco Ballet; the Smuin Center for Dance was established two years ago as its adult dance school.
Company dancer, John Speed Orr—who also has a real estate license—saw the potential in the oddly shaped lot, which formerly housed the Metronome Ballroom, and helped secure it. Several weeks after Smuin moved in the shelter-in-place order was imposed.
“We quickly pivoted to an online program reaching directly into people’s homes to stay connected and moving throughout the pandemic,” said Amy London, Smuin’s Director of Education. “We offered hundreds of affordable classes and workshops, aiming for wide access with a sliding payment scale and dozens of free classes.”
The Center attracted students from across the country and even abroad. One of the most loyal students is from Sweden; a recent visit to San Francisco enabled him to take a class from a favorite instructor in person and see a company performance.
Today, the school’s more than 15 weekly dance and fitness classes are taught by current or former Smuin Ballet artists and Bay Area professional dance instructors.
“This unique personal access to professional dancers not only offers stellar instruction but adds a fun behind-the-scenes look into the dance world,” said London.
Accessibility and versatility are core to the Center’s offerings.
“We believe dance is for everyone and a large portion of our dance and fitness class schedule is geared toward adult beginners. Smuin’s trademark is versatility, and our class offerings reflect our range with classes and workshops offered in ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, contemporary, character, heels, Broadway dance, repertoire as well Pilates, yoga, stretch & strengthen,” said London.
The stretch and strengthen class, for example, is geared toward seniors. Most classes offer hybrid or in-person attendance, with in-person fees starting at $15. All online classes allow “pay-what-you-can” options of $10, $15 and $20.
In June 2020, Smuin Center for Dance launched its Class for a Cause program, to raise funds for organizations whose missions align with its values, with proceeds donated to the chosen nonprofit. To date, more than 15 classes have raised in excess of $5,000.
“We recently raised funds for our neighbors at The Food Pantry on De Haro,” said London. “Other recipients have included the NAACP, Center for Black Equity, and ACLU.”
A Class for a Cause was held on March 25, and featured an hour-long Ukrainian Folk Dance class led by company dancer Mengjun Chen. Nearly $600 was raised, donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross to support those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
“Smuin Center for Dance is happy to have a permanent home in the Potrero,” said London. “We are excited to share our love of dance through community targeted classes and workshops. We aim to be a hub for inspiration, movement and gathering in the neighborhood. We hope the Potrero community will come and move with us, whatever their interest!”