On any given day at the Dance Complex in Cambridge, dozens of students, teachers, choreographers, and performers trickle in and out of the front doors of the five-story building. Clad in brick with large, arched windows, the Central Square studio at 536 Mass. Ave. is a hub for all styles of dance in Boston.
It’s been this way for more than 30 years. Dancer and choreographer Rozann Kraus founded the Dance Complex in 1991, after the Joy of Movement, the aerobic/fitness and dance studio that had occupied the building, closed. That same year, local dance-makers made a deal with the city of Cambridge, ensuring the 1884 building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, would always be kept a dance center.
Today, the Dance Complex is run by Peter DiMuro, a choreographer, director, teacher, and dancer celebrating ten years as the center’s executive artistic director this year.
“It’s become a place where we have dancers from all corners of the world,” DiMuro said during a recent sit-down with the Globe. “All kinds of people teaching all kinds of dance and all kinds of people taking all kinds of dance.”
From around 10 a.m. until 9 p.m., the sounds of coordinated steps and music resonate in the Dance Complex’s halls. There may be a children’s ballet class on the first floor, flamenco on the second, a workshop on street dance on the fifth. All told, the Dance Complex hosts a schedule of about 80 regular classes, workshops, and rehearsals per week.
Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday for more than four years, Sylver Rochelin, 37, has been teaching a style of dance that he calls “Froca.” He describes it as a fusion of African and Carribbean dance combined with cardio fitness.
“It’s everything I’ve learned in my career as a choreographer and dancer,” said Rochelin, who’s from Madagascar, adding that the Dance Complex was the first place he taught the class. Froca Fitness attracts about 30 participants per class each week.
“It’s so welcoming for everybody,” he said. “Come if you’re a beginner, or come if you’re advanced at the top level.”
Jessica Roseman, 53, grew up attending classes at Joy of Movement. Now an independent choreographer and teaching artist who creates works about fertility, menopause, Afrofuturism, and ancestry, Roseman rents Dance Complex studio space to develop solo works and lead workshops, like a panel discussion on working mothers in the arts.
“[My work] is about expanding the sense of what dance can be and how dance can serve your community,” Roseman said.
Professional performances are also a part of the Dance Complex’s offerings. About 100 shows take place in the building every year, many in the 75-seat Julie Ince Thompson Theatre (known by day as Studio One). This weekend, the complex is hosting two performances by Jean Appolon Expressions, a Boston-based contemporary dance company rooted in Haitian-folkoric culture. The professional dance company is one of four chosen for the Complex’s BLOOM Residency and Platform-Raising program. In its first year, the program aims to offer space, attention, and administrative resources to selected professional companies and build better relationships within the dance field. Boston Dance Theater, beheard.world, and The Click were also selected for BLOOM residencies.
DiMuro believes the studio’s blend of professional, pre-professional, and community-oriented offerings is unique.
“From what I’m told, there are few other spaces around the country that have this professional yet community vibe,” he said.
“The community component is very powerful,” Rochelin said. “It’s an amazing place for diversity, gender expression, identity . . . It’s a place where people can come and be celebrated for being themselves.”
When Ann Brown Allen, 71, broke her arm, the former Boston University dance teacher went to a workshop at the Dance Complex for dancers with disabilities.
“It was an affirming and humbling two-to-three-day workshop,” said Allen, who’s been on the board at the Dance Complex since 2000.
The studio has also hosted dance workshops for people with Parkinsons disease, limb loss, and other neurological disorders, as well as “unseen” disabilities like depression and anxiety.
“It was not too long ago that people with disabilities were not included in dance,” DiMuro said.
He described a dancer in his own dance company, Public Displays of Motion, who lives in Chicago and lost both legs below the knee in a construction accident. At 60, he dances in and out of his wheelchair in a way that nobody else can.
“A fully abled body isn’t the only body that can do things,” DiMuro said, adding that in disability dance, “who you are” is central.
Through workshops and discussions, the Dance Complex has explored questions around racism and dance studies. The “Learning to Walk the Talk” series is designed to drive these discussions. “Being told because you’re Black you should do jazz and not modern? Crap like that still goes on to this day,” DiMuro said.
While the Dance Complex’s doors are open to all, physical access to the building is limited, with two sets of winding wooden staircases connecting its five floors. A motorized lift on the ground floor moves one person at a time to the second floor, but there is no elevator.
“We have a list of updates needed to be made,” DiMuro said, including adding an elevator, updating the brickwork, replacing windows, and building a public dance patio. Renovations could cost $10-$12 million, he said. “We are continually in a fundraising mode to accomplish them.”
“We beg, borrow, never steal,” DeMiro said, noting the studio relies on the generosity and donations of partners.
“The goal is to help people see that movement is a part of everybody’s life. You can’t escape it.”
Brittany Bowker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.