A Fort Greene dance studio is not ready to let the beat drop.
The Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance on Fulton Street is getting the boot to make way for a luxury residential tower. The departure will end three years in the space above a bagel shop between Flatbush Avenue and Rockwell Place, and will cut short a 10-year lease, forcing the dancers to scramble to find a new home, one of the studio’s directors said.
“It’s a huge blow for a young organization,” Jimena Martinez said. “We were taken by surprise.”
Cumbe runs 50 dance classes each week, focusing on dances, traditional and contemporary, from Africa or influenced by African cultures. The center’s 2,000 students heard about the impending move in June, when the current landlord informed Cumbe honchos that their building had been sold. They have until the end of January to clear out.
Building permits show that a 19-story residential tower will rise on the spot, bringing ground-floor retail and another 157 apartments to the rapidly transforming area. The tower will extend all the way to Flatbush Avenue, where a corner storefront housed a short-lived Five Guys Burgers and Fries and has recently contained a succession of temporary retailers.
Martinez said the move stings because studio management put so much money into building out the current facility, and will have to spend that money over again once a new home is found.
“We had invested quite a bit in the space, and we’ll have to do it again,” she said.
Flatbush resident Dominique Taylor takes classes at Cumbe and said it has taught her a new way of thinking about music and movement that is totally distinct from European and American conventions.
“If you start trying to understand it in terms of Western music, you just can’t,” Taylor said, noting that the rhythms of certain cultures seemed completely foreign to her at first. “You have to open yourself up to the sound-scape and feel the rhythm.”
Beyond learning to dance, people attend Cumbe for the camaraderie, another student said.
“Cumbe’s atmosphere has a communal focus,” said Rachel Wyman, a student from Crown Heights. “It’s something that means a lot to me. It’s like a family. It’s not just about dancing.”
Cumbe is raising money to cover the move, and is working with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Fort Greene) to find a new space in the area its staff and students have come to love. Martinez knows that costs in Downtown and Fort Greene are through the roof, but she thinks it is important to figure out how to maintain a presence there.
“The growth in Downtown Brooklyn is a good thing, but there’s a lot that needs to be done to ensure that the flavor of the neighborhood — and the institutions that give it that flavor — survive,” she said.