NDI New Mexico began as a public school program at Acequia Madre Elementary in Santa Fe. The program was based on the kinesthetic teaching methodology developed by former NYC Ballet dancer and MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Jacques d’Amboise, who founded National Dance Institute (NDI) in New York City in 1976. In 1994, Catherine Oppenheimer, formerly of NYC Ballet and Twyla Tharp Dance Company, co-founded NDI New Mexico in Santa Fe with Jacques.
Since incorporating as a non-profit in 1994, NDI New Mexico has grown from annually serving 100 children in one Santa Fe public school to reaching almost 8,500 children statewide, through public school programs with advanced training teams, traveling residency programs, summer programs, and after school dance classes at The Dance Barns in Santa Fe and The Hiland Theater in Albuquerque.
The Dance Barns began with a dream in the late 1990’s: NDI New Mexico Co-Founder Catherine Oppenheimer gathered her staff for an exercise in which each person was asked, “If you could build a home for NDI New Mexico in Santa Fe, what would it include?” At the time, the organization was renting an array of facilities and quickly outgrowing each of them. It had rented rooms at the College of Santa Fe for its summer programs, then quickly expanded to the larger “Pink Church” on Alto Street, which soon overflowed with dancing students. Staff members recall children dancing on the church deck and in its driveway.
Asked to dream big, the NDI New Mexico staff’s top requests were a venue that included a theater where 500 public school students could perform together before an audience of 500 people. Well-equipped studios, locker rooms and plenty of space for NDI New Mexico students to perform their iconic “runs and jumps”, and the space to create an after school dance studio, where all children in the community could explore the study of different dance techniques, learn choreography and perform for the community.
In 2001, in an unprecedented move, the Santa Fe School Board voted to lease NDI New Mexico 3.5 acres of school land for $1/year for 50 years with an option to purchase. NDI New Mexico raised $4 million for construction from private sources, and in May 2003 it opened the doors of The Dance Barns, a sparkling new headquarters for NDI New Mexico in Santa Fe. The 33,000 square foot facility included four spacious dance studios (two of which combine to form a 500-seat theatre), plus production space, a costume shop, a recording studio, an exercise room, expansive storage, a conference room, and administrative offices.
The Dance Barns provides is an iconic landmark in Santa Fe, providing a vibrant, supportive and safe environment where children thrive.