Disco Inferno: When Will Students Get Their New Dance Center?

Isa Bayona, a sophomore dance minor, dancing in front of the unfinished Sandi Simon Center for Dance. Photo by Whiting.

Sophomore dance minor Isa Bayona was startled by the blaring whines of fire trucks while studying in her apartment in The K Residence Hall. She watched outside her window as smoke came from the Sandi Simon Center for Dance.

Her heart sank. 

Fire trucks lined up outside the studio the night of the fire. Photo courtesy of Maggie Vetter.

“I was just hoping the whole building wouldn’t go up in flames, let alone delay the opening even more,” Bayona said.

After campus closed in 2020 and the fire this past January, dance students have been anxiously awaiting the opening of the new Sandi Simon Center for Dance. Most thought they’d be leaping through a brand-new studio by fall 2021 – but a group of seniors will exit Chapman disappointed, as the Center isn’t expected to open until next semester. 

Julianne O’Brien, the chair of the dance department, also anticipated the building would be up and running last semester. But some officials never expected it to open until fall 2022.

So what on earth was actually going on behind the scenes? 

Dr. Giulio Ongaro, dean of Chapman’s College of the Performing Arts, said there were no COVID-related reasons that slowed down the construction of the studio.

Sophomore Isa Bayona mid-performance. Photo courtesy Isa Bayona.

“I was actually very worried that COVID might delay it, but the university supported us and said we were going ahead with the project,” Ongaro said.

He explained that dates have been tossed around, but there was never an official announcement of an earlier opening date. Once Chapman started working with the architectural firm, they settled on an opening date, which has not changed from fall of 2022.

Sandi Simon Center for Dance will measure about 28,000 square feet upon its construction, 90% bigger than the Partridge Dance Center.

Julianne O’Brien-Department of Dance Chair. Photo courtesy of Chapman University.

According to O’Brien, if the architects’ vision meets reality, students can expect split level studios, a spiral staircase, a student lounge and a training room. 

“It will be such a wonderful space to spread our wings,” O’Brien said. 

The upper level will contain five studios, audiovisual equipment, Apple TVs, a student lounge and more. There will even be a performance studio for small concerts and master classes.

This is a huge upgrade from Partridge Dance Center. 

Ron Simon and his wife Sandi have been supporting Chapman University for years. They are known for their generosity, having established scholarship programs like the Simon Foundation for Education and Housing, which supports select students from high school throughout their completion of college.

The second floor rendering of the Center. Photo courtesy of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects.

After having attended performances of, “Chapman Celebrates,” an annual student performance that raises money for the Chapman Scholarship Fund, Sandi feels a special appreciation for Chapman’s dance program.

Sandi wrote to ChapBook Magazine that she was “honored” to have her name associated with the studio.

“The talent of those students is incredible. Their performances blow me away,” Sandi wrote. “The students deserve this new facility. They have earned it.”

When Sandi first got word of the January fire, she was stunned.  

“My immediate thought was one of concern. I hoped that no one was injured and I prayed there was no

Sandi and Ron Simon. Photo courtesy of the Chapman Newsroom.

major damage,” Sandi wrote. “I was relieved and pleased that the project could continue moving forward.”

Unfortunately, senior dance majors like Gracie Head and Kaitlin Hennessey are completely missing out on the new studio after months of anticipation.

“My classmates and I were all looking forward to spending our last year together in a new space,” Head said. “It was really sad to hear it wasn’t opening in fall 2021.”

“I’m definitely bummed about not being able to dance in the new building,” said Hennessey.

Despite missing out on the new studio, Hennessey is trying to be optimistic. 

Senior dance major Gracie Head in action. Photo courtesy of Gracie Head.

“At least it gives me an incentive to visit the studio after I graduate,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bayona is thankful that the Center for Dance wasn’t severely damaged from the fire that night.

“At this point, I’m just ready for it to be open,” Bayona said. “I’ve been excited for what feels like forever.”

Even with all the excitement, she will still miss Partridge Dance Center.

Kaitlin Hennessey, senior dance major. Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hennessey.

“I’m hoping it feels just as much like home as the current studio does,” she said. 

O’Brien confirmed that Partridge Dance Center will physically become part of the Hilbert Museum of California Art, which is currently undergoing a huge expansion project.

The Sandi Simon Center for Dance will be ready for dancers in the fall of 2022.

The upper level windows of the Sandi Simon Center for Dance. Photo by Whiting.
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Zetta Whiting is a sophomore English major with an emphasis in journalism and a dance minor. In her free time, she enjoys reading fiction, watching action movies, and eating seafood.