Boston's Paramount could become dance school for youths

Break-dancing teacher Duggan Hill would like to house his youthful troupe, City Lights, in a refurbished Paramount Theater. To do that, he'll have to convince city officials that would be a better use than putting a posh dinner-dance club in the now-rundown hall. Boston's once-glamorous, now-dilapidated Paramount Theater is up for grabs. Three years ago the city couldn't give it away; now two groups are vying for the opportunity to restore the art deco theater to its former grandeur.

Underlying the contest for rights to the theater are opposed views as to exactly how, and for who's benefit the Paramount should be used.

F. D. Rich and Joe Burlandy want to restore it as part of their larger development plan for downtown Boston. Under their direction, the Paramount would become a posh dinner-dance club managed by the Lyons Brothers, the firm currently handling the Metro and Spit, two of Boston's most popular nightclubs. Duggan Hill and his teen-age dance troupe, City Lights, propose to use the Paramount to house a school for the performing arts, funded by a nightclub which would also be located in the theater. Although perhaps outmanned by the Rich-Burlandy forces, Mr. Hill is convinced that his proposal would bring much greater benefits to the city of Boston.

A self-taught but highly respected dancer, Mr. Hill has worked with many stars including Brook Shields, Anne Bancroft, and Dom Deloise. He says, however, that he gets more satisfaction from teaching dance to city kids. For the past eight years Hill has traveled around the neighborhoods of Boston teaching dance classes and giving break-dancing demonstrations.

More than 1,000 city teens -- whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans -- mostly from Roxbury, Dorchester, and South Boston, have learned the basics of break dancing under his tutelage. Hill explains that dancing gets them off the streets and keeps them out of trouble. ``Dancing is popular even with the tough kids. It gives them discipline, a sense of accomplishment, and self-respect.''

The City Lights dance troupe, although lacking a permanent home, has met with considerable success. It has performed around Boston -- for the Captain's Ball at City Hall, the AFL-CIO convention at the Park Plaza Hotel, at the Metro as the only local talent at KISS 108's annual bash, and even on the US Navy aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. This summer Hill and four of his best ``breakers'' plan to go to France and ``pop, wave, and tick'' for audiences in Paris.

Hill first envisioned a self-supporting performing arts school while attending Boston College. After graduating, he began to look for a place to make it happen, first settling on the Astor-Tremont Theater in Boston. After it burned, he became interested in the nearby Paramount. That was five years ago. Since then, Hill says, the condition of the Paramount, now vacant for seven years, has worsened. Water damage occurred because there were holes in the roof and a leaky water main in the basement. Hill repaired the roof and spent several hours painting the 30-foot marquee on the outside.

The Hill proposal has support from sources other than the teen-agers the school would directly benefit. Dr. Robert Spillane, superintendent of Boston's public schools, not only backs City Lights on its own merits, but also says he feels there is tremendous potential for a pooling of resources with the public schools. And in a letter stating his support for the proposal, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis stated that City Lights makes ``the educational future of Boston children its No. 1 priority and recognizes these children's central place in the arts of Boston.''

An agreement finalizing the Rich-Burlandy redevelopment plan for downtown Boston, including refurbishing of the Paramount, will be signed today. But since Mayor Raymond L. Flynn and the Boston City Council have to approve the use of the theater, Hill says he feels there is a chance that City Lights rather than the Lyons Brothers could wind up as the tenant. He argues that the city should require linkage -- the practice of developers of an area giving something back to the community. What better way, Hill asks, than to allow City Lights to move into the Paramount?

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