New York City, home to more than eight million people, is best known as the city that never sleeps. You can get sushi at 4:00 A.M. or see the latest on- or off-Broadway show any day of the week. It is truly a multi-cultural mecca that offers various art, dining, and creative experiences for young and old alike. For decades millions of people worldwide spent billions of dollars supporting and enjoying the arts scene in New York City. And then the pandemic hit, and it hit hard! Government leaders in New York and across the country grappled with the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe and healthy.

By March of 2020, it was clear; drastic measures were coming to ensure the public’s health. And for the first time in history, Broadway and all its lights went dark. The art and culture scene was forced to pause, which resulted in severe and devastating financial losses for all. By the end of the year, many dance organizations, groups, and projects in New York City lost more than $16 million in revenue, according to Dance/NYC. For many dancemakers and creatives, it was more than a loss of income. It was a loss of rehearsal and teaching space and essential opportunities for shared creative expression.

Pivots, Leaps, and New Dance Partners

For the more than 5,000 dancers, 1,200 dance-making entities, and 500 nonprofit dance companies in New Your City, the realities of COVID-19— and the challenges of finding places to rehearse and perform—seemed impossible. That is, until they became acquainted with an innovative program developed by Partners for Sacred Places in partnership with Dance/NYC, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and Goldstein Hall. Created in 2019, NYC Dance in Sacred Places strives to put the surplus space many urban congregations have to new use by leveraging Partners’ unique tools to create sustainable, mutually beneficial space-sharing relationships between sacred places and dancers. The program serving Manhattan and Brooklyn helps artists avoid the costs of property ownership while helping churches, synagogues and temples bring new income and new energy to their buildings.

Good for All

Since its inception, NYC Dance in Sacred Places has hosted several in-person and online training sessions and three community engagement events. Two of the events were virtual speed dating exercises to help more dancers and congregations find each other in a fun and relaxed environment. Over the last eighteen months, more than 30 sacred places and 60 dance makers have benefited from the program’s training and networking opportunities. These training sessions are more than informational. These learning engagements are helping like-minded congregations and artists find one another and create something meaningful and lasting for the community at large. Before and during the pandemic, the program’s success demonstrates an ongoing need many congregations have to utilize their spaces better. Finding beautiful and affordable places to perform and showcase their talents is invaluable for members of the arts community.

Welcome to Campfire

“Dance in Sacred Places, and the relationship Partners’ staff helped us form with Hebrew Tabernacle (through the miraculously generous Shelly Koy), made the difference between my collaborator and me dancing and not dancing during the pandemic” said Ingrid Kapteyn, Co-Founder, HEWMAN, Welcome to Campfire.

“While dance studios across New York City remained shuttered, having access to space to continue rehearsing safely enabled us to produce a music video, cultivate sixteen safely distanced, mostly outdoor performance opportunities, shoot a film, and invest our energy into what turned out to be a growth period for our company. Space is everything to dancers—without it, we cannot do what we do—and Dance in Sacred Places provided it when we had literally nowhere else to turn. We are overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Hebrew Tabernacle, New York, NY

Welcome to Campfire Rehearsal, Hebrew Tabernacle, New York, NY
Terry Bordonaro, photography

Alison Cook Beatty Dance performs at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Times Square, New York, N.Y.

Alison Cook Beatty Dance performs at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Times Square, New York, N.Y. The Fleet for videography and photography

Now, fast forward to late 2020. It’s winter, many of us are bored, and our lives and rituals are still affected by COVID-19. The long cold months ahead seem drab and dreary, but some warming moments began to emerge. Over four months starting in December of 2020, Alison Cook Beatty Dance production performed Winter Wonderland, a brilliant and moving five-part series. The choreographed winter-themed dances were filmed in various parts of New York City, with one of the most moving dances performed at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Times Square. This spring, Broadway Presbyterian Church formed a year-long partnership with Stephanie Nelson Dance (SND). By the summer of 2021, SND will rehearse, hold classes, and film performances at the church.

Build and Borrow

A rapidly growing program, NYC Dance in Sacred Places is a success story for many reasons. Yes, it solves problems for artists and sacred places. However, the program also generated several important learnings, brought communities closer, and formed new relationships. But more can be done to expand and grow the program nationally.

“It was extremely helpful, not only for potential dancer connections, but for any space use considerations.” —Rev. Heidi Neumark, Trinity Lutheran Church

Congregations large and small have an opportunity to lean into dance or music, art showings, or other creative arrangements if that feels right. Consider marrying the tools and fundamentals of this program with out-of-the-box thinking to create new partnerships. Space-matching is smart and in its most basic form is a great way to utilize space, engage the community, and close opportunity gaps felt by the community at large. NYC Dance in Sacred Places truly demonstrates the value of identifying and nurturing the best space-matching opportunities for congregations and artists in any community. And one day soon, that community could be yours!

To learn about NYC Dance in Sacred Places, please visit