On Thursday, January 29, in the presence of over 50 donors, students, and community supporters, the newly christened dance studio opened for use by RPI’s dance and select martial arts clubs. This moment concluded a three and a half year, $30,000 cooperative campaign by the Ballroom Dance club and the Rensselaer Union to replace the floor of the former Student Activity Room on the 1000 level of Academy Hall. The SAR had served as an essential practice location for a number of student organizations, but had reached a desperate condition prior to this project.
The project has its beginnings in August 2011, when the RPI Ballroom Club took the floor of the SAR for their first practice of the new semester. The team took notice to the poor shape of the room and soon began to discuss taking action. From that, the thought to overhaul the floor through repair or replacement began to take hold in the subsequent year.
The floor had endured numerous instances of water damage over the years, primarily from water leaking in under a fire escape door from the outside parking lot during heavy rain and from what would later be discovered as pipe leaks in the walls of Academy Hall. The floorboards were warped from many years of thermal cycling, causing the floor to be slightly uneven. Spaces between boards had opened, causing a trip hazard.
The most noticeable damage that year was from a daycare that had been hosted through Samaritan Hospital the previous summer, which had left localized sticky residue from consumables and deep scratch marks from the movement of chairs across the floor. Over the next four summers, maintenance work to remove these damages resulted in the exposure of the nail heads of the floor and the bare wood underlying the finish, causing localized but intense and widely distributed damage over that period.
The Ballroom Team’s thought developed over the next two years into a fundraising project within Ballroom Dance, spearheaded by Ali Kennicutt ’09, ’11G, ’15G. Ali has been a member of Ballroom Dance since the Fall 2005 semester and has served in numerous officer positions, including team captain. She competed in the 2014 USA Dance Nationals, placing 7th in the nine-dance event with her partner Matt Shoudy of the University of Albany, State University of New York at the highest amateur level, champion.
In the intervening time, the water damage sources were addressed short of remodeling the parking lot. The threshold of the door frame which allowed leakage during rain storms was raised and a sensor was installed to alert if the threshold was breached and allows for a shop vacuum to prevent water from reaching the floor. The pipe in the wall which had previously caused water damage was repaired and the leaks ceased.
In Fall 2012, Ballroom Dance organized for a weR Gold fundraising campaign in the spring 2013 fundraising season. That time, Ballroom’s application wasn’t accepted. To improve for the fall 2013 weR Gold application period, Kennicutt and Ballroom Dance’s Student Activities Resource Person Steve Allard arranged for an estimate of repair costs to be performed. The result was that refinishing was no longer possible for the SAR floor and an approximately $30,000 replacement would be needed.
On October 29, 2013, then Ballroom President Steve Lentine ’13 appeared before the Union Executive Board, which was at the time chaired by former President of the Union Gretchen Sileo ’14. The purpose of the appearance was to receive a decision about a $15,000 funding request. The $15,000 donation was decided to be made to the campaign, pending the acceptance of a $15,000 weR Gold campaign by Ballroom Club.
Ballroom Dance revised their application for the Fall 2013 weR Gold application period and were accepted for a $15,000 campaign. This campaign was chaired by Susan Bivone ’14. From January 2014 through the beginnings of the Fall 2014 semester, intense campaigning occurred throughout their alumni base, friends, family, and other community supporters. By the end of this period, the campaign had raised approximately $7,500 from over 170 donors, but wasn’t making much further progress.
Director of the Union Joe Cassidy, who had been involved with the campaign since the Fall 2013 proposal, and President of the Union Erin Amarello ’15 began working together after it was noticed that the weR Gold campaign at terminal maturity. Through an E-board budget appropriation, the other approximately $7,500 of funding were obtained from Union funds to bridge the gap, completing the $30,000 capital campaign.
In the following months, Assistant Director of Recreational Services Joe Campo and Allard held the bidding process among possible contractors. Over the winter break of 2014–15, the old floor was removed and replaced with a floating floor. This type of floor construction is superior to the old wood-on-concrete construction in that it greatly reduces impact-related injury from chronic use. Space along the wall to allows the floor to thermally expand and contract without increasing pressure within the wood, improving the life-span of the floor.
After construction completed, a photo gallery was installed, containing moments from the 2014 RPI Dancesport Competition, an annual competition hosted by Ballroom Dance in March. These 16 photos were selected from a collection of professional photos shot and donated by Jay Zhang ’12, a recent alumnus of Ballroom Dance who founded Jay Zhang Photography of Menands, NY in 2013.
The official rededication and unveiling ceremony began at 6 pm on January 29, 2015. Kennicutt gave a short synopsis of the project and graciously thanked everyone who had made the project successful, many of whom were present at the ceremony. Cassidy similarly thanked those who were responsible for the moment, declaring that it was a “great day of celebration of the community.” He concluded his speech with a quote from American psychologist Wayne Dyer, “when you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor; it’s to enjoy each step along the way.”
The ceremony then proceeded with an unveiling of a plaque listing every donor who had contributed to the weR Gold campaign, which will hang on the wall of the dance studio, beside the photo gallery. The ribbon was cut at 6:27 pm local time by Kennicutt and Cassidy simultaneously. The attendees then proceeded to flood the new dance floor and either engage in conversation or join Kennicutt and Jean-Paul Reddinger ’12 in christening the floor with its first dance, starting with “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars. On the second song, Kennicutt taught a crash course in jitterbug to nine students. The attendees enjoyed up to two and a half hours of dancing and socializing, ending the celebration at 9 pm.
Future improvements of this facility are hoped to include installation of a more permanent stereo system to replace the ailing boombox, expansion of the photo gallery, party lighting for an improved atmosphere to allow for regular social dances, and the installation of additional mirrors on the wall to allow for improved practice. The upkeep of this new floor shall take precedence, however, requiring minor-but-important maintenance approximately once every two to three years. Kennicutt said of the project’s completion, “we are excited about the new spaces and its designation as an official dance studio—we are hoping that with this designation, its use will be restricted to dance and select martial arts organizations to help preserve the high quality of the state of the room.”
Gajjde Sher (RPI Bhangra), Dance Club, Kung Fu Club, Uncontested! Step Team, and Ballroom Dance, including the Ballroom subgroups Argentine Tango, Lindy Hop, Ballroom & Latin, and Ballroom Team will be the primary users of this new facility for their weekly practices. For more information on how to become involved in regular use of the dance studio, visit their club pages on the Union website at http://union.rpi.edu/.