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Discover Dance

Lost Gem
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The Neighborhood Playhouse

The Neighborhood Playhouse is both a great community resource and an old-fashioned reminder of the timelessness of great theater. Virtually invisible from the street, the only clue to its existence is a red, unmarked door and a modest sign. Once inside, however, I discovered that this almost one hundred year old building holds within it a proscenium theater, a full-size dance studio, and plenty of dressing rooms and classrooms. What a fascinating tour I was treated to by Emily Duncan, the admissions administrator, where I learned about their history and mission. The lobby, with its shabby elegance, features photos of famous graduates, as well as scenes from plays over the course of the school's history. The top two floors of the building are devoted to a beautiful dance studio with wood floors and soaring ceilings. A lover of dance, I was particularly moved when Emily announced that I was standing in the former domain of dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse alongside actor and teacher, Sanford Meisner. I was also enrapt by Christine Cirker, the librarian, who proudly discussed their vast collection of plays and theatre criticism. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the world of theater, she told me that she also teaches classes on script interpretation. Christine went on to explain the playhouse's claim to fame: the Meisner Technique, a method of acting that emphasizes that one should "live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances. " Sanford Meisner developed his famous improvisation-based technique at the Playhouse in the mid-1940s, which continues to train actors to this day. It counts among its list of prominent alumni names: Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen; and more recently, it has added to its roster, Allison Janney and Chris Noth. The playhouse trains about one hundred students at any given time, seventy-five first-years and twenty-five second-years who have been invited back as a result of a unanimous faculty vote. According to Emily, graduates have an easier time finding work than most aspiring actors due to their alma mater's extensive network of influential writers, directors, and actors. Much of the faculty is closely involved in the theater world, and as Pamela Moller Kareman, the playhouse's executive director, shared, "It's a big leap to become a professional actor; we want people to know that you can do this with your life. " And from the time that I spent here, it became apparent that the staff at Neighborhood Playhouse is there to guide and support students every step of the way.

Lost Gem
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Manhattan Movement & Art Center

Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad. While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home. "Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You, " are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls. )As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.

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Dance Theatre of Harlem

When the Manhattan Sideways team and I visited the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2017, we were greeted by Robert Garland, the director of the school and the resident choreographer. He was eager to give us a personal tour of the space and to share their remarkable story with us. Since our visit was in the summertime, regular classes were not in session. Instead, we observed their Summer Intensive program, which Robert told us features the “crème de la crème of the youth dance scene. ” Every year, the school holds a national audition tour to select participants for the program, though the Summer Intensive also has many returning students. In fact, Robert has known some of these aspiring dancers since they were only seven years old. During our first visit, we sat in on a beginner’s pointe class, a modern dance class, and a men’s class. It was heartwarming to see the kids’ engagement, as they were instructed with equal measures of discipline and fun. They were happy to show us heir latest lesson in properly tying the ribbons on their pointe shoes before going through their regular barre exercises. It was equally as exciting to return the following week for a chance to see the rehearsals for the dance company, where we glimpsed Robert in his role as resident choreographer. Beyond the actual dancing, we also observed examples of their supplementary studies, through which students can learn about dance history, musical theory, and a range of other subjects that complement their in-class training. The Summer Intensive, Robert explained, is basically a condensed version of what the Dance Theatre of Harlem does year-round. The school is divided into different programs based on skill level, consisting of a Tendu Program for children between the ages of three and eight and Lower School and Upper School programs designed for progressively more experienced students. As an additional offering, the Dance Theatre has a Professional Training Program that grants participants a certificate upon completing three years of study. All programs follow the same methodology of exposing students to a wide range of styles and techniques, from tap to jazz to West African, while simultaneously providing them with a well-rounded understanding of the craft via supplementary studies. These studies even include subjects like sewing and costume design, educating students in anything that might prove relevant to their possible futures as dancers. We were impressed to learn that Dance Theatre of Harlem does not stop at being a school and dance company; it also has a community outreach program through which it holds workshops and assemblies in public schools to expose children to the arts. This is in addition to the Sunday Matinee series, during which students of the company perform for the public, and audience members are encouraged to meet the artists after a show. After receiving a tour of the space and a taste of the usual class routines, we sat down with Robert to hear a bit of history of the school. It was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, two renowned figures in the dance world. Mitchell, a MacArthur Fellow and National Medal of Arts recipient, was the second African American member of the New York City Ballet, where he remained for eleven years. He helped establish dance companies in Washington, D. C. and Brazil before deciding to form his own dance company in Harlem, the neighborhood where he was raised. His decision was motivated by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., since it sparked in him a desire to create better opportunities for young people in his community. Robert proposed a partnership with Karel Shook, another former member of the New York City Ballet, who was well known as a ballet instructor and had established the Studio of Dance Arts. Together, they launched Dance Theatre of Harlem with a mere thirty students in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church on 141st street. Within two months, however, the school grew to five hundred students. Two years later, the company had its debut performance, making history as the first African American ballet company. Because of rapid expansion, the school quickly needed a new location. When Mitchell got wind of a former garage available on 152nd street, he transformed it into the high-ceilinged, well-equipped dance studio that still houses the school today.

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Bellydance America

I have discovered many fascinating places while walking on the side streets of Manhattan. I am sorry to say that I did not look up to see Belly Dance America when I initially walked on West 37th Street. It was not until a few years later that I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Hanna and Jehan, the wonderful couple behind the place that has been hailed as the center for all belly dance needs. As it is the first and only store of its kind in New York City, located on the second floor, it has definitely cornered the market. For anyone passionate about the art of belly dance, or for those who are only getting started, there is just about anything that one could want in this shop. It is more than just a belly dance store. Belly Dance America is a love letter to the passion and culture of the Middle East, paying homage to the richness of history and music that so often gets overlooked these days. As I walked into their shop, I was greeted by the sound of a breeze sneaking its way through an open window to rustle the costumes within, announcing its entrance with the soft jingling of the coins on the bottoms of the skirts. Every costume is made with a unique attention to detail. Some are imported and some are made right there in the shop, designed and assembled by Jehan’s husband and co-owner, Hanna. The costumes that are imported are made especially with the diverseness of the human body in mind, made by designers who know how to fit it perfectly. Even still, Jehan and Hanna take an honest approach to the sale of each item. “If something doesn’t look good, I’m going to tell you, ” said Hanna, “It’s not about making a sale. I’d rather have a loyal customer who comes back and is always happy. ”I found there to be a strong sense of community among the dancers and instructors. Everyone is welcome, whether they are a professional dancer or a hobbyist who is just starting out. It is never about competition, just the mutual enjoyment of a beautiful art. “The good thing about belly dance is that it welcomes all sizes, all body types, and all ages. ” In the studio, I watched a group of dancers go through a routine as the instructor, Layla, led. While standing there, I listened to the coins jingling in time with the music and the sound of beads swinging side to side. The ghazal of the singer’s voice wailed from the stereo system in the corner of the studio and the dancers looked very much at peace, some of them smiling, some staring at themselves in the mirror, all feeling the passion and richness of the music down to their very core. Returning to the shop, down the hallway, where Hanna and Jehan were, I commented on what an incredible experience it was for me to witness these women dancing. They smiled and responded, “It makes people happy, ” “the music, the colors, the dance. ”

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New York City Center

Members of the Manhattan Sideways team stood in awe when we entered the New York City Center and realized that the extraordinary exterior matched the majestic interior. One of the most beautiful facades on the side streets is here on 55th, but behind its doors is a restored treasure trove. Hawley Abelow and Stanford Makishi, two passionate personnel from the marketing and programming departments, greeted us as we arrived and proceeded to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of what they termed to be “The family business of performing arts centers of New York. ” Stanford called it the “most ‘un-corporate’ large venue” he has witnessed, and he and Hawley both have the credentials to make that judgment, having worked at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Both went on to say that even though they have to book acts with a certain amount of popularity in order to be financially viable, they are mainly concerned with what they put on the stage, rather than the profits. City Center also displays a refreshing lack of competitive spirit: “Other philanthropic programs are our colleagues, not competitors, ” Stanford explained, while detailing his amicable dealings with some of the big theaters in the city. We started out walking on the center stage itself, where we could stare out at the breathtaking view of the tiers of seating. Each level was an intricately carved masterpiece, reminiscent of a Russian cathedral. Stanford said that dancers, actors and musicians love performing at City Center because the theater is built so that every seat feels close to the stage. He told us that their left wing is legendary, as there is a wall only a few feet from the edge of the stage. Apparently every ballerina knows not to make extravagant leaps off the left side unless they have someone waiting to prevent them from smashing into the wall. Stanford is qualified to speak about the performer’s experience, since he was a dancer for many years, and City Center was the first New York location at which he danced. On our particular visit, the stage was getting set up for that evening's performance by Bjork. Though Hawley is not a dancer, her career has similarly come full circle: when we explored the downstairs theater spaces, used by the Women’s Project and Manhattan Theater Company, she relayed that she started in the Production department at Manhattan Theater Company. Though not as grand as the main performance space, the downstairs theaters are more versatile. Stage 2 appears to be a “black box” theater, in which producers have more freedom with how they decide to set up the audience seating and set. Stage 1, on the day we saw it, was completely bare. This is not to say it was empty: cords and lights and ladders filled the stage, showing us a surgical biopsy of the theater. “This is as raw as it gets, ” Hawley commented. We also had the privilege to peek into one of the City Center’s dance studios, where we observed men and women twisting like tilted windmills. Stanford and Hawley told us that the spaces, which are rented out to different companies, are heavily sought after because they are much larger than many studios in New York. Broadway casts covet them, but they often go to not-for-profit groups. “Broadway is not our priority, ” Hawley stated. There was a "throne" at the back of the room, which was originally built as an auditorium for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, an appendant body to the Freemasons. Stanford told us that they used to hold their secret meetings in the spaces that are now studios, and the man presiding would sit on the throne. It was when Stanford and Hawley began speaking about “Fall for Dance, ” an event that aims to bring the “highest quality dance to the largest possible audience, ” that they became especially animated. As Holly declared, “You can’t come to this show and not fall in love with dance. ” The performances take place in the early fall, and apparently people line up in the middle of the night to be first to purchase tickets when they go on sale the following morning. Our tour continued to the lobby, which reminded us of a receiving hall in a palace. The design is neo-Moorish with murals depicting desert scenes. Hawley remarked that the colorful, intricate designs had been painted over in white during the 1970s due to a misguided sense of aestheticism, but in the recent renovations, they hired specialists who uncovered the original design. At the same time, screens were installed that display rainbow rivulets. Stanford informed us that the video was specially curated by the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. Another dazzling piece of art was a mural that stretched across an entire wall of the Patron’s Lobby. It was created by a Cuban artist, and had been borrowed to complement his country's dance troupe’s performance. “We try to make performances meaningful for the audiences, ” Sanford commented. Every element of the theater is in place to enhance what is on the stage.

Lost Gem
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National Dance Institute

Some of my first memories of sitting in the audience at the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center are o​f Jacques d’Amboise. Even as a young child, I recognized his grace and brilliance as a dancer. My Mom and I followed him and his career for decades. In addition to seeing him on stage, we went to hear him speak on various occasions, and after he retired from dancing, ​ we enjoyed the ballets that he choreographed... and then were overjoyed to ​watch his son Christopher literally follow in his footsteps. We were elated when Jacques won an Academy Award for He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' in 1984​ and cheered him on when he founded the National Dance Institute (NDI) in 1976. ​In the early 2000s, I was thrilled to be able to arrange to have the students from his organization perform at my own children’s school. Today, his art education program at NDI has reached approximately 6, 500 children throughout the New York City school system by bringing dance and music into young people's lives. Over the course of the six years that I have spent walking the side streets of Manhattan, I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting thousands of people who have each touched me in a unique way. I have been transfixed by every word of their stories and honored to be able to share them on the Manhattan Sideways website. Sitting down next to Jacques​ d’A​mboise when I neared the top of the Manhattan grid brought tears to my eyes - it was certainly a highlight of my journey. At eighty-three years old, he was everything and more of the man that had left such a deep impression on me some forty-five years before. He is a genuine human being with a deep compassion for others, a strong desire to continue to make the world a better place through art and dance, ​ and the ultimate New Yorker. When I mentioned my childhood memories and told him how my parents had been attending performances at New York City Ballet almost since the beginning, he began reminiscing and spoke fondly of Lincoln Kirsten and George Balanchine, the founders. ​As he started sharing stories of his time spent in Russia, one of the Manhattan Sideways photographers, Olga, walked in. Jacques became giddy when he learned that she had grown up in Odessa and had studied ballet. ​After our marvelous encounter with Jacques, we proceeded down the stairs of NDI to where all the action happens. What was once a public school has now become a dance center with multiple classrooms and a 100-seat theater for performances. ​If one did not know, however, that one were in a dance studio, one might think this was a spectacular art gallery. As I learned from the enthusiastic staff members, Jacques loves immersing himself in beauty, and he wants his students to be surrounded by it as well. Whenever he travels around the world, he comes back with something extraordinary. In addition to the array of pieces by a diverse number of artists, there is also a wonderful wall of photographs of Jacques that his wife took over the years. Before dashing off to a tap class, Mary Kennedy, a Master Teaching Artist since 2000, spoke briefly with me. She explained that every year, the staff decides on a different theme for the season. In 2017, they were concentrating on rivers. Not only are the various dances that are choreographed integrated into the related theme, but lessons about the subject are also given. When I inquired if she ever "joins" a class, she responded with a smile and said, "I always enjoy learning and participating, so sometimes I, too, take a class with the kids. I still feel like a child. It is fun to mirror them. This way we have a team experience. "​ I then asked Mary if there was one thing that she could share with me about working with Jacques over the past seventeen years. Her reply was simple: "Because of Jacques' vision, all of us are able to live his dream. He has given us the opportunity to bring joy to so many through movement and dance. "Other staff members elaborated on some of what Mary had shared. They explained that they s​end teaching artists and musicians into the schools to identify and decide who is invited into their programs. "We would like to take everyone, but we obviously cannot do this. "​ They assured me, however, that children can still come and take classes. ​When I commented on what the students were wearing, I learned that they are encouraged to come in comfy clothing and sneakers. It is one of the few places where traditional ballet is taught where proper dance attire is not required. ​NDI has a need-based scholarship program for the weekly classes, which are offered to kindergartners through eighth graders. On Saturdays, when around 200 children come to NDI, I was told that it is "electric. "​ A staff member explained, “You can always feel the energy - i​t bounces off of you. ​ We cannot describe what goes on here: Everyone needs to experience it. ” All of this is immediately apparent upon stepping inside the National Dance Institute. One can see the smiles on the children’s faces, the gratitude of the parents, and the absolute joy that the teachers experience every day working with Jacques, who is clearly an incredible man. ​Jacques d’Amboise is a legend and a hero not only in New York but around the country and throughout the world. He wants each child to succeed, and he has created an environment that helps them excel. His goal is pure and simple - instilling the desire in kids to be the best that they can be. What better way to do this than through dance? ​ His philosophy is not only that children can potentially become dancers, but that they can master many other challenges in their lives. As Traci Lester, the Executive Director, expressed to me, “If you surround children with the best, then they will shine. Jacques sets the standard. Give them high expectations and they will rise. " She added, "E​verything is about Jacques. He is what sets us apart from other art education programs. He is a catalyst for change. He inspires every one of us. "

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Triangulo: Boutique Studio For Argentine Tango

Gabi, a dancer herself, and a 2016 Manhattan Sideways summer intern, had the pleasure of sitting in on one of Triangulo’s advanced tango classes. She told me that she spent some time admiring the studio, which was a small, cozy space unlike other dance studios she had seen before. Lacking the usual harsh lighting and starkness of dance studios, Triangulo had lovely chandeliers that created an intimate atmosphere. There were also ornate mirrors, a wine bar in the corner, and a mural painted along the back wall depicting the owner and founder, Carina Moeller, as well as assorted current and former students of Triangulo. Gabi later learned that the beautiful mural had been a student’s gift to Carina, who explained to me that much of her success has come about thanks to the generosity of people in the tango community who have lent her their support and friendship over the years. Triangulo first opened in 1997 on 14th Street within a triangular studio that inspired the business’ name, which means “triangle” in Spanish - a clever choice, given that the studio focuses on teaching Argentinian tango to students of all levels, from novices to experienced dancers. Carina said that she opened the studio without much of a plan, having been urged to teach tango by a friend of hers despite her primary focus on modern dance. Much to Carina’s delight and surprise, the business soon took off, garnering a loyal base of students. In 2007, Carina searched for an alternate location, eventually finding her current studio on 20th Street. The wooden floors, the mural, and even the chandeliers were all able to be installed thanks to the donations and support of Triangulo’s students, a considerably diverse community. Even though everyone was dressed quite elegantly - and Gabi freely admitted her awe at the women’s superhuman ability to dance so gracefully in stilettos - the ambiance was relaxed and friendly, with everyone cheerfully helping one another as they learned the new steps. Carina shared with Gabi that they are a varied bunch, with students’ ages ranging from twenty to seventy, and nationalities from across the globe. Of the eighteen or so people who were there on this particular night, only one of them was a couple; the rest were people who had previous tango experience, either with Triangulo or elsewhere, and were paired up in class. Since it was an advanced class, the pairs were already familiar with basic moves and were therefore being guided through more complex steps by Carina and Dante, another instructor. After the evening’s class ended, they had a Milonga, which they hold every Tuesday and Friday. This is not a class, but rather a time for “social tango, ” where anyone can join in, pick a partner, and dance some tango while enjoying drinks from the bar. Carina and Dante highlighted the importance of these events, and of tango in general, as they encourage connection and human touch. In this way, they are able to bring a small slice of Latin America, complete with its flamboyance and vigor, to life.

Lost Gem
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Peridance Capezio Center

Peridance Capezio Center is a mecca for dance in NYC, fostering the arts in the local and international dance communities, for over 30 years. Peridance offers multiple platforms for dancers and non-dancers alike, including more than 250 weekly open classes, a Professional Training Programs, an F-1 Visa Program for International Students, and The School at Peridance - a comprehensive children and teen program. Their adult open classes are offered in all styles and levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. Peridance Capezio Center is also home to the professional dance company, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and its affiliated Peridance Youth Ensemble. In conjunction with their renowned faculty and partners (Capezio, Djoniba Dance Centre, Limón Dance Company, Baila Society, and Dance Informa), Peridance has gained an international reputation for the programs it offers. The Center is housed in a beautiful landmark building featuring six spacious studios, The Salvatore Capezio Theater, the Peridance Coffee Shop, and the Capezio dance-wear Boutique. One afternoon, I had the privilege of stopping by the Peridance Capezio Center to observe their students training. I witnessed the explosive athleticism and technical discipline at play in Shannon Gillen’s Advanced Contemporary class, as students tested the strength of their bodies in an array of conditioning and floor exercises. Later, in the large upstairs Studio 1, bathed in the sun’s rays from the skylights above, I watched as dancers chasséd and pirouetted across the room in Breton Tyner-Bryan’s Advanced-Intermediate Ballet class. I would not be surprised to find any one of these talented performers on stage someday.