Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture (JPDA) has completed the new Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center (DSPAC) – a community resource that celebrates dance education in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Generous support from Oprah Winfrey allowed dancer Dwana Smallwood to realize her vision to give back to the community she grew up in.


The project has garnered top interior design honors from AIA New York as well as the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s Building Brooklyn Award for outstanding contribution to Brooklyn’s streetscape and economy.

Located in a former industrial building, JPDA developed a series of dramatic architectural interventions that transform the exterior and create bright, airy and playful dance studios, offices, a library, and dressing rooms for the bustling families that arrive each day.


Formerly Principal Dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dwana Smallwood later served as Director at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa. After deciding to return to her home neighborhood to teach dance, the project benefited from Oprah’s direct support to spur the growth of the organization in developing a school and resource center for the community.


“My intention was to use my professional dancing experiences to come back to where I grew up and not only teach dance, but the confidence, love, creativity, and self-esteem that comes with learning dance,” recounts Dwana. DSPAC combines flexible dance studios, performance spaces, and administrative functions and serves as a significant cultural resource for the community.

The organization aims to use the arts, primarily dance, as a means to empower youth within New York’s inner city communities. They endeavor to mold elite dancers and artists who will be able to develop, grow and compete on the world’s stage.


Early in the design process, JPDA developed a series of figure studies using photography and dance notation to inspire a direct abstraction of movement and the flow of architectural space. The entrance is announced by a suspended canopy, via glass doors flanked by 3-d sculpted concrete panels and a marquee that establish the abstract vocabulary of undulating energy and movement. Cast ripple and spiral panels hint at the energy and dynamic spirit of the public programs.


The stairwell and second-floor reception are clad in dimensional CNC-milled lacquered panels that conceal storage, signage, and lighting. The circular ripple motif carries through to a colorful and warm library that provides comfortable seating and a social gathering space. The area creates an oasis of calm for reading and stretching, as well as social space for connecting with friends and neighbors.

Open, bright studios with sprung floors and glowing skylights are the focus for dancers. The two studios are flexibly divided and can open up to one large dance stage with blackout curtains at performance time.

The center is a springboard for creating community identity and encouraging creative activity within an underserved population.

[photography by Amy Barkow]