The groundbreaking ceremony for a major performing-arts expansion of the DeWitt Center at Hope College will also launch a year-long, golden-milestone celebration for the college’s nationally acclaimed Department of Dance.
Hope will break ground on Friday, Aug. 18, at 3 p.m. for the Jim and Eileen Heeringa Dance Wing that is being added adjacent to the building’s main theatre and entrance facing Columbia Avenue at 12th Street. The public is invited, and admission is free although an RSVP at hope.edu/august18 is requested.
The ceremony will include remarks about the important nature of a transformative liberal arts experience by Matthew A. Scogin, president of Hope, and Dr. Steve Maiullo, interim dean of arts and humanities. Bill Blanski, architect from HGA Architects and Engineers, will share insight into the building design. Matthew Farmer, who is the Dorothy Wiley DeLong Professor of Dance and department chair, will provide an overview of upcoming events to celebrate the Hope dance program and its faculty and students.
In addition, the event will include special recognition of Eileen Kilmer Heeringa of Holland and the late Jim Heeringa, who were the dance wing’s lead donors; Linda and Dave Wesselink, who underwrote the renovation of the recently completed Wesselink Tap Studio in the DeVos Fieldhouse; and the additional 60 donors who have made contributions to the project thus far.
The construction taking place across the coming school year will coincide with a variety of events commemorating the 50th installment of the department’s major annual concert, which is always named chronologically — this time, Dance 50, scheduled for Feb. 9-10 and 15-17. Additional activities will include an alumni reunion in conjunction with the Feb. 17 performance; tours of the in-progress construction in February as well as during Homecoming in October; and other concerts in the fall and spring. The project is scheduled for completion in time for the start of classes in the fall of 2024.
Although the addition to the DeWitt Center, which opened in 1971, is being named for the Department of Dance, Farmer explained that the space is intended to serve all of the performing arts at the college. The most prominent feature, a state-of-the-art, 3,900-square-foot dance studio, can double as a performance venue for dance, theatre and others. It will also include a wheelchair lift to facilitate access to the mainstage and backstage areas; dressing rooms and a green room; and — for audience members — additional restrooms in the lobby.
“The dance studio will also be a performance space, and can be a venue for multiple performances throughout the year,” Farmer said. “It will also provide additional opportunities for the community as well as our students as we enhance the college’s ability to bring in guest artists who may have requirements for rehearsal and backstage space that we can’t currently meet.”
Established in 1974, the college’s Department of Dance is open to all students at Hope and not just majors or minors. The department offers two different dance majors and two minors, with coursework that is a combination of theory and technique, including ballet, Hip Hop, jazz, modern and tap. More than 250 students are enrolled in the department’s courses in any given semester, including approximately 75 who have declared majors or minors.
Hope has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance since 1982, and the Department of Dance has received a variety of honors through the years. Most recently, in February, it received the 2023 Inspiration Award from Chicago Tap Theatre, one of the nation’s top tap companies, as a leader in tap dance education.
The forthcoming addition and the previously completed tap studio, which opened during the 2021-22 school year, are the first two of three projects for the Department of Dance, which Farmer explained has not only outgrown its quarters but must meet new standards for accreditation — such as larger studios with higher ceilings — that the existing facilities can’t address. A major renovation of the studio space in the Dow Center — the department’s primary home since the building opened in 1978 — is the third project, and is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2025.
“Accreditation standards have changed because the art form of dance has changed,” Farmer said. “As more and more science is developed around the field of dance, the more the standards have changed as we have learned more about what dancers’ bodies go through during rigorous training and performance.”
Additional information about the August 18 groundbreaking, the 2023-24 celebration of the Department of Dance, and how to support the facilities’ enhancements is available at hope.edu/give/dance-project/