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Alma College Dance Team Moves into New, State-of-the-Art Facility

“Having our own space is going to be a game-changer for us, as far as focus is concerned. No distractions — we’re going to be able to simply focus on our goals and priorities.” – Head Coach Tracy Burton

The Alma College dance team is pictured March 8, huddled up inside its new, state-of-the-art prac...The Alma College dance team is pictured March 8, huddled up inside its new, state-of-the-art practice facility The Sanctuary.ALMA — On March 8, coach Tracy Burton told the Alma College dance team to meet at a building off-campus to take part in a volunteer project.

In actuality, there was no volunteer project in the works. Instead, Burton surprised the team by unveiling a secret she had been keeping from them for months: the building, a former church, had been transformed into a state-of-the-art dance facility.

And it was all theirs.

“This team deserves some good news with the maturity they have shown through the pandemic, and it feels great to provide that. Now, we’re ready to go to the next level as a program,” Burton said.

Reactions from the team when they learned the news came almost in unison. As they broke out into tears of joy, thrilled shrieks and — of course — dancing in celebration, they expressed feelings of shock and gratitude at having a space to call their own.

“In the history of this program, we’ve never had our own space, so to have one that is so perfect for this team is really amazing,” said Jenna Baker, a junior from Byron. “This is more than I ever could have imagined.”

To date, the team has mostly used the dance studio in the Oscar E. Remick Heritage Center for the Performing Arts as its practice area. Since that studio is also used by theatre and dance students at Alma College, scheduling time for themselves has been tricky.

The social distancing restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated those issues. Sometimes this past season, the dance team hasn’t even been able to dance together as a group, and has had to get creative to maintain a sense of synchronicity.

The dance team won’t have those issues any longer in their new facility, named The Sanctuary — a nod to the building’s former identity as the Community Baptist Church of Alma. The college purchased the church in 2018, but efforts to renovate the structure only began in earnest in October.

The actual building part of the renovation project started later — around mid-February, mere weeks before the dance team received their surprise. Ryan Stoudt, director of facilities and service management at Alma College, said it was a tight deadline, considering the scope of the project.

When the building served as a church, there was a large, second-story balcony space that took up a lot of room in the sanctuary area. That wouldn’t work for a dance facility, so Stoudt’s team removed it. The church’s pews and organ were removed, too.

They also installed a number of new amenities. Wall-to-wall mirrors, which help provide immediate feedback to dancers looking to perfect their moves, were put in. A subfloor was installed to help with shock absorption, and a specialized, vinyl flooring known as marley was put on top of that. The red walls were given a fresh coat of gray paint and Alma Scots-branded graphics were the finishing touch.

Stoudt credited members of the facilities department — in particular carpenters and electricians — who worked long hours to get the job done in a short amount of time.

“It’s a blessing that we have this team, with the knowledge and experience they possess. We’re able to do the campus maintenance that we need to do, while having the ability to flex our muscles creatively on a job like this,” Stoudt said. “Hearing the student-athletes’ reactions to the work we did was icing on the cake. It puts into perspective why we do what we do — it’s all for them.”

The Alma College dance team poses for a photo inside its new practice facility, The Sanctuary.The Alma College dance team poses for a photo inside its new practice facility, The Sanctuary.Burton credited Stoudt and his staff, along with Alma College President Jeff Abernathy, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Alan Gatlin, and Athletics Director Sarah Dehring for seeing the project through to the end.

“Alma is a wonderful school to coach dance, because the college treats dancers like athletes. They value and respect the dancers. To see the love that this college — from the top on down — has for its student-athletes means everything to us. We will be forever grateful for the work and care that everyone put in to this space.”

The Sanctuary represents a new milestone in an ever-growing list for the impressive Scots dance team. Burton began the program in 2016 with just five students and no staff members. The team initially performed at Alma basketball games, but didn’t dance competitively.

By the third year of the program, in 2019, the team was not only competing, they were winning. The Scots made it all the way to the finals of the National Dance Alliance (NDA) Division III Team Performance Championship in Daytona Beach, Florida, and according to Burton, surprised even themselves by winning the event.

All the while, the team has grown in numbers. Thirteen out of the 30 students on the roster are in their first year. Next year, Burton said, the group as a whole is expected to swell to 40. She has also added two assistant coaches since 2016.

The Scots never had the opportunity to defend their 2019 championship, due the COVID-19 pandemic, which ended its season. But in April the team will return to Daytona Beach to compete for another NDA championship. Riding a wave of momentum from finally having a home to call their own, she said, they expect good results.

“March is always that month that we really bear down and focus on nothing but nationals. Having our own space is going to be a game-changer for us, as far as focus is concerned,” Burton said. “No distractions — we’re going to be able to simply focus on our goals and priorities. I can’t wait to see how much the team grows.”

Story published on March 22, 2021