Luna Dance Institute returns to its roots in Berkeley

Patricia Reedy (l) founded Luna Dance Institute in 1992. Nancy Ng (r) is director of community development. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

On a recent early morning, the sprung bamboo floor at the Luna Dance Institute was gleaming.

Bright light flowed in from windows overlooking Berkeley’s Aquatic Park and bounced off the 1,200 square foot floor and onto mirrors that covered one wall. While no children crowded the dance floor – it was only 10 am – within hours the studio would be filled with the sights of bodies whirling and twirling.

For Nancy Ng, Luna’s director of community development, the sight of that spacious, modern floor was the fulfillment of years of hard work and calibration. Luna Dance Institute was finally back home in Berkeley after spending 14 peripatetic years bouncing from different spots in the East Bay – from Berkeley to Oakland, then Albany, then Berkeley, then back to Oakland, to Emeryville and and finally — again — Berkeley.

This summer, the 20-year old dance company signed a five-year lease on a 4,400 square foot property at 605 Addison Street, across a parking lot from Berkeley’s new animal shelter, close by the pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-80, on the edge of Aquatic Park, and a short stroll from Sketch Ice Cream. In short, a very family-friendly vantage point.

After 14 years of bouncing around locations, Luna has settled in west Berkeley and can boast spacious, light-filled facilities. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“It’s just perfect for us,” said Ng. “This will be our forever home. We are planning now for the next 10 years and beyond for what we want to do and what we want to do with our program. This space is part of that.”

Founded 20 years ago by dance teacher Patricia Reedy, the Luna Dance Institute is both a place that teaches children and teens how to dance, and one that also teaches teachers how to teach dance. The dual mission, which extends into schools in Berkeley, Oakland and southern California, as well as to families involved in the court system, means that Luna indirectly influences more than 20,000 children a year.

“Luna has been really instrumental in pushing keeping creative dance and dance in schools throughout the East Bay and even beyond,” said Judith Smith, the artistic director of Axis Dance Company, which puts on dances using dancers with and without disabilities. “Dance is always at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the arts. It’s so important because it’s physical, it teaches kids about their bodies, being in their bodies and moving. Luna does fabulous work. They are  nationally acclaimed.”

The new space means that Luna Dance Institute can reach even more people, according to Ng. For one, it is wheelchair accessible, unlike the Institute’s previous homes, which should make it easier for dancers who use wheelchairs, she said.

The space has a spacious library stocked with books on all aspects of dance and instruction. The book-filled room has windows that overlook the dance floor, so teachers can unobtrusively watch children in motion without making them feel self-conscious.

And since the dance floor is twice the size of Luna’s previous dance floor, it can also accommodate more people. Luna moved early in the summer and the larger space meant that it enrolled 50% more children in summer camp than in 2011.

Reedy and Ng are always thinking of ways to show more people the beauty and promise of dance. Luna first opened as a community dance space, then evolved into a teaching institute with dance and choreography classes for kids and teens. The emphasis was on empowering kids to choreograph their own dances rather than follow ones that had already been created. In 2005, Luna shifted emphasis to provide education and support to professionals — both dancers and K-12 teachers — who taught kids how to dance. In 2010, Luna re-branded itself to combine those different threads.

Luna is constantly evolving. Just recently, Reedy started to tweet from the @lunadanceinst account. Each day she sends out a creative dance prompt. A recent tweet suggested that dancers “Try a running, diving, jumping dance,” and perform it as if you were on ice, or enmeshed in honey, on a trampoline, or in tall grass, trying to avoid stepping on any snails. Reedy said that a number of teachers are using her suggestions in their classes.

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