Dance: Home Is Where the Heart Is

Exhale Dance Tribe feels right at home in new digs

Mar 26, 2008 at 2:06 pm
Graham Lienhart

Exhale Dance Tribe's Andrew Hubbard

The times they are a-changin' " sings Bob Dylan on Missy Zimmer's voicemail greeting. Times are changing for Zimmer and her husband Andrew Hubbard's dual endeavors: the contemporary jazz-based Exhale Dance Tribe and their progressive dance school, Planet Dance. The school has recently moved into a new home within a grand, historic stone building on Gilbert Avenue.

The timing was fortuitous. Their former Western Hills location above a hardware store wasn't ideal geographically, and the sounds of the tenants' feet overhead wasn't music to customers' ears. An Exhale member saw the new space for lease, and Zimmer and Hubbard leapt at the opportunity to be in more urban environs.

"It feels way more artistically stimulating to be in town," Zimmer says.

Hubbard says, "I think first and foremost it feels to us like it kind of solidifies the professionalism of what we're doing, and our mission."

"Which is to be more of an urban-based school," Zimmer adds. "Really that's what we've been wanting for a long time: (To offer) the kind of dance where you're encompassing hip hop, jazz and ballet — all the classical art forms of dance, but then also really branching out, too.

Planet Dance is about really bumping up the dance education of these other forms, so they're a little more respected and not so like, 'Oh, that thing.' "

Their new dance digs complement their more downtown desires: wide-open space, soaring ceilings and versatile alcoves. The whitewashed exposed brick walls and industrial-strength bolts and beams above also give the place a New York City loft feel. Zimmer and Hubbard should know: They spent a good bit of their careers there dancing on Broadway in Cats, among other major productions.

The pair is just back from a long weekend on Long Island, where they spent 12-plus-hour days judging a national high school-age dance competition, but they don't look worse for wear. According to the couple, enduring some of the numbers can be torturous, but there's some real talent on display, too. Their competition judging work has been extensive and frequent — sometimes every weekend for months on end — but it provides steady bread-and-butter income.

Zimmer and Hubbard discuss what a risk the move is, what with the steep costs of installing a sprung wood floor covered with eye-popping green marley (a type of thin, durable rubber floor covering).

It's clearly a labor of love — in addition to some generous donations, they're running up their home equity line of credit. But they show no signs of doubt that after eight years in business — it's the right move at the right time.

"It is a giant leap," Hubbard says. "It's built on the faith that what we offer here can sustain itself and can grow and evolve and change.

"I have faith that there is a community in Cincinnati, in this Tristate, that can sustain what we're trying to do. It's so much more than just another dance studio."

With the school and the company dovetailing, young dancers can gain pre-professional company experience while training across styles. Zimmer and Hubbard are committed to bringing in world-class instructors through their professional dance connections, in addition to expanding class offerings for children.

As if that's not enough to keep them busy, they have a performance on the heels of their grand opening. Their iPod-inspired Shuffle will offer a sampler of mostly new works alongside a few restaged selections. Zimmer and Hubbard's sparkling fresh, eclectic choreography delights the senses and challenges conformity. Like a Shuffle, they like to mix it up and stay up with the times.

EXHALE DANCE TRIBE performs Shuffle March 29 at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.