School of Dance leaves Cambridge after 37 years, but stays just hop, skip, jump away

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The Deborah Mason School of Dance will be moving to Somerville, taking 8.000 square feet once used by the Seabra Foods grocery store. (Image: Google)
The Deborah Mason School of Dance will be moving to Somerville, taking 8.000 square feet once used by the Seabra Foods grocery store. (Image: Google)

It happened: Cambridge lost the Deborah Mason School of Dance.

Technically.

The 37-year-old school and unofficial second family to generations of students has found a home at 624 Somerville Ave., just a few blocks outside of Porter Square “on the Cambridge/Somerville line,” as Mason put it Tuesday – but in Somerville nonetheless.

“It’s in Soca – Somerville/Cambridge,” she said Tuesday. “That’s what we’re calling it.”

The school has known for years it would be forced from its crumbling, two-story Cottage Park Avenue space in North Cambridge when the nearby Fawcett Oil site was demolished and turned into up to 77 housing units. Mason and others made urgent appeals to city officials for help starting in February 2012.

“We cannot afford to make today’s market rents, and I hate to think we might have to move out of the city,” she told city councillors. “I never asked for anything from this city … but these kids deserve a home. Something better than what we’re in now, to do the work that we do.”

Founder Deborah Mason with a student. Mason said she’d been looking for a new home for seven years. (Photo: Deborah Mason School of Dance)
Founder Deborah Mason with a student. Mason said she’d been looking for a new home for seven years. (Photo: Deborah Mason School of Dance)

On Tuesday, though, she announced “with great pleasure” that by moving over the border to Somerville she’d gotten a 20-year lease on 8,000 square feet with high ceilings that includes not only three large studios and community space but dressing rooms for women and men, four bathrooms, offices for administrative staff and a faculty/meeting room – “just the basic highlights of what is sure to be the city’s premier art center,” she said. “Oh, and there’s parking!”

Renovations are nearly under way based on drawings by architect Tricia Kendall, she said. Until a few months ago, the space was a Seabra Foods ethnic grocery store admired by shoppers for its low prices and fresh produce. Its strip mall neighbors are a Papa John’s Pizza, Dollar Store, gym, laundromat, hair salon, dentist and barbershop.

“We are now in the process of getting permits from the city to begin the buildout. I can’t give you a timeline right now as to when we will be moving, but as soon as we get going I will update,” she said, expressing appreciation for Somerville officials’ eagerness to help.

It’ll be the school’s sixth move, with the stay in North Cambridge lasting for the past 15 years. With the Fawcett Oil redevelopment long looming, “We’d been looking for seven years,” she said.

The school’s programs continue uninterrupted, including work on the holiday-themed “What the Dickens!” show and the partnership between Mason’s Cambridge Youth Dance Program and the American Repertory Theater. Mason said that would let allow some of her 500 weekly students from ages 3 to 18 take part in a workshop with the acclaimed Pilobolus dance troupe.

One potential long-term possibility within Cambridge was lost amid slow progress on potential arts space in East Cambridge’s Foundry building, but councillors said last year they’d hoped to help the school stay in the city.

“It’s so clear this is an important community institution that we should keep here in any way we possibly can,” Mayor Henrietta Davis told Mason and her students.

“Miracles do happen in Cambridge,” councillor Ken Reeves had said. “Keep dreaming and we’ll join the dream. We’ve gotten good places before and we can do it again.”

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2 Responses to "School of Dance leaves Cambridge after 37 years, but stays just hop, skip, jump away"

  1. ritchotte   Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 8:38 am

    No, there’s no Soca. You are in Somerville. I live in Somerville near the Charlestown line. I do not live in Sobo, or SoCha. I live in Somerville and I am a Somervillian. If you think retaining your connection to Cambridge is that important to you, you don’t understand what it means to be part of the Somerville community.

    But Welcome…to SOMERVILLE.

  2. bob   Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Well I’m a Somerville resident too, and proud of it.
    I am very excited by the new energy that is being infused into our city. Its good for our economy as well as for the community.
    Welcome Debra Mason-you will be an asset as you have been in Cambridge for all these years. This is a vibrant, mixed, interesting city that deserves this kind of talent.
    I know that kids served come from all over, and I’m happy that Somerville is the place welcoming them.

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