After nearly six months without a facility in which to operate, the 92-year-old Thomas School of Dance began its first classes Monday in its new space, the former Grace United Methodist Church at 193 Union St. in Bangor.
Owner and artistic director Cassie Pillsbury closed on the building on Friday, and spent the weekend clearing out the building alongside staff and volunteers, preparing the space to hold its first classes.
“It was an intense and amazing weekend, and we had just a ton of volunteers show up to get this place up and running really quickly, so we could start today,” Pillsbury said. “We have four studios now, all ready to go.”
The 164-year-old Grace United Methodist Church held its last services on June 30, 2019, after struggling for more than a decade to generate enough money to keep the doors open. The New England Conference of the United Methodist Church chose to sell the building, and Pillsbury purchased it for the school on Friday.
The Bangor City Council approved a zone change for the building on Dec. 9, 2019, to allow a business to locate on the property. The sale of the church to a business puts the building back on Bangor’s tax rolls. As of last April, the city valued the 0.14-acre property at $760,700, according to city property records. Pillsbury said she bought the building for $95,000.
Later this month, the dance school will be joined at 193 Union St. by its sister organization, Bangor Ballet, a not-for-profit dance company that temporarily held classes over the fall in Thomas School of Dance’s former location at 14-16 State St.
The Thomas School of Dance was founded in 1928 by Polly Thomas, then 14, who taught dance classes in the 1930s and 1940s at the Bangor YMCA and at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Park Street. In the 1950s, Thomas bought 42 Broadway, by the intersection of Broadway and State Street, where the school was located for more than 30 years. In 1983, Thomas sold the school to Jane Bragg, who then moved it downtown to 88 Central St., where karate studio Kishintaikan Dojo is now located. Twelve years later, Bragg bought 14-16 State St., and moved the school there.
The Thomas School of Dance offers classes for children, teens and adults in dance styles that include ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, Irish, lyrical, modern, musical theater and ballroom.
Pillsbury chose to move out of 14-16 State St. earlier this year, after she said she was unable to negotiate new lease terms with the building’s new owners, Robb and Christen Gordon, who purchased the building from Bragg in March 2019. The dance school’s former space is now empty, after Bangor Ballet’s temporary lease ended at the end of December. Bangor Ballet will begin moving its costume shop into 193 Union St. next week, though its administrative offices will remain at the Bangor Arts Exchange at 193 Exchange St.
“Seventy-five percent of our dancers are also enrolled in classes at Thomas,” said Kimberly Colavito, executive director of Bangor Ballet. “We’re really thrilled to move into this space. It gives us so much room to work with, and honestly, we’re very happy to not climb four flights of stairs and to have plenty of parking.”
Colavito said the church’s sanctuary was large enough to not only comfortably house the entire company, but also allow both Bangor Ballet and Thomas School of Dance to eventually offer studio performances. Pillsbury said it will take a little bit more time to get the sanctuary space up and running, but she’s excited about its potential.
“Once we get it all together, I think it’s going to be a pretty phenomenal space, not just for us, but for Bangor,” Pillsbury said.