On Thursday, the RIOULT Dance Center officially opened its new home at 34th Avenue and Steinway Street in Astoria. To welcome the new space, RIOULT dancers in white tops and red bottoms spun their way down 34th Avenue to applause.
Rioult, a former athlete in France, was once a principal dancer at the Martha Graham Dance Company with his wife, Joyce Herring. In 1994, they founded RIOULT Dance NY, which presents at the Joyce Theater and on tours nationally and abroad.
“Very early on, we thought wouldn’t it be incredible to have our own home and not be vagrant from studio to studio,” Rioult said. “If you had told me 25 years ago, even 10 years ago, that I would be standing here today in front of this building, in front of this new dance center that actually bears my name, I would absolutely say you were crazy.”
The 11,000-square-foot facility will house five dance studios, including one that can convert into a 100-seat box theater. Another studio doubles as a public space.
On Thursday, after cutting the ceremonial ribbon, elected officials and supporters of the dance company got a chance to see the new $4.5 million dance center, which features Harlequin flooring, temperature control and floor-to-ceiling windows, among other features.
The RIOULT Dance Center will offer classes to professional and advanced dancers, including modern ballet taught by faculty who have experience in the techniques of Martha Graham, Jose Limon and May O’Donnell.
The company will also offer educational programs for young people in the community. Class offerings will include modern, ballet, creative movement, hip hop, African, jazz and flamenco.
“We are a respected dance company,” Rioult said. “Now, we’re going to become an institution, which is going to change all of our lives.”
Hope Greenfield, board chair for RIOULT Dance NY, said she loved dance as a young girl. After she lost touch as an adult, she was inspired by RIOULT in the late 90s and decided to throw her support behind the company.
The idea behind the dance center originated in Greenfield’s living room, where they began years of planning and fundraising. The company planned to raise $6 million over five years, and are already past the halfway point.
Greenfield, who walked around “in absolute awe” inside the new facility, said the dance center is a beautiful space.
“We hope that this new center will become a resource for Queens and for the New York City community,” she said, “reaching out to embrace all the cultural and artistic diversity in our community.”
RIOULT Dance NY is the first dance company to establish itself at the Kaufman Arts District in Astoria. Hal Rosenbluth, president and CEO of Kaufman Astoria Studios, said the late George Kaufman envisioned this part of Astoria “rejuvenated with the arts.”
RIOULT’s move to Queens is a testament to that vision, he said.
“A vision of our community to be filled with the best and brightest artists in every discipline,” Rosenbluth said. “With the great help and leadership of our community board and elected officials, I think that vision has been happening.”
Borough President Melinda Katz, whose parents founded the Queens Council on the Arts and the Queens Symphony Orchestra, said at the ceremony that the borough is expanding its arts and culture for young people everyday.
“We are teaching our next generation that you never have to go over a bridge or through a tunnel to get great culture and arts,” she said. “We have it right here in the borough of Queens.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer added that the power of art and culture is that it will inspire young people to take a class or perhaps be the next great ballet dancer.
“New York City is not New York City without artists,” he said, “people who are brave enough and bold enough to dance in traffic along 34th Avenue.”
While the facility is not fully complete yet, Rioult said he hopes the dance center bearing his name will be the “talk of the town.”
“We are looking forward so much to establish ourselves here,” he said, “to open our doors to everybody.”