Discovering Where Dance Meets Architecture


In an exploration of the connections between form, movement, and the human experience of space, team members from Clark Nexsen collaborated with the Brickell Academy (formerly Old Donation Center) dance program, a unit within the arts magnet of Virginia Beach Public Schools, on a Dance Meets Architecture series now in its third year. Including children from 2nd to 8th grade, Virginia Beach’s gifted dance program implements differentiated instruction designed to support the kinesthetic learning style associated with artistically gifted students. While many students are talented dancers, inclusion in the pull-out program emphasizes selection of students whose education will benefit from the correspondence between dance and their preferred learning style. Conceived initially in 2014 between Paul Battaglia of Clark Nexsen and Valerie Winborne of the Brickell Academy dance program, Dance Meets Architecture explores the ways in which architects and dancers can learn about their respective disciplines from each other and celebrates concepts of energy, creativity, and education.

Seizing the opportunity to combine artistic passion with community involvement, the Clark Nexsen team of architects and interior designers engaged with students and faculty to develop architectural forms to be used by the students in choreography. In our first year of collaboration, these forms took shape as elemental wood framed boxes featuring various panels. Through a series of discussions, presentations, fabrications, and dances, the frames and choreography were refined for a live performance, held in the lobby of Clark Nexsen’s corporate headquarters. Our team walked away struck by the students’ spirit of collaboration and open discussion, which minimized conflict and demonstrated exceptional maturity.

“We saw this as a unique opportunity for shared growth,” said Paul Battaglia, principal and architectural department head, “But it exceeded even those expectations. As designers, we gained new insight about how people energize space – but also about the meaningful impact of kinesthetic learning within our school system.”

This collaboration transcended barriers such as age and discipline to create mutual admiration between architects and dancers, and this enthusiasm continues to carry Dance Meets Architecture forward. In our second year, we explored the perception of time and space through a conceptual labyrinth, providing the students with an opportunity to produce their own ideas and interpretations of the spatial elements before the designers gave input. Ultimately taking shape as cocoons formed by hoops and fabric and accompanied by poles, these spaces introduced multiple textures and structures for the dancers to interact with.

The resulting performances had profound impact on both the audience and our team, demonstrating how space influences human behavior and how that relationship can magnify or collapse the space itself. These demonstrations inform future design concepts as they highlight the impact of space on both human interaction and experience. Our collaboration with the Brickell Academy dance program began as an effort to support our community, give back, and collaborate with creative students, but has grown in meaning over the years to take shape as a fully reciprocal learning experience.