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Peridance Center's Historic Move: Kids' Program Will Grow by Leaps and Bounds

by Bonnie Rosenstock
December 7, 2009
Peridance Capezio Center
126 East 13th Street
New York, NY 10003
212-505-0886
Oh, to be a kid again is not just an idle reverie at the Peridance Center. The PeriChild/PeriTeen program, established at the center in 1986, boasts over five hundred pairs of happy feet that can choose from a wide range of classical to cultural dance forms, which include creative movement, modern, ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, salsa, African drum and dance and samurai sword fighting.

With its impending move, hopefully in late November, to 126 East 13th Street, the 1903 Beaux Arts building which used to house Frank Stella's studio, Peridance will double its space and double the programming, enough room to grow and thrive along with the kids and thousands of adults who bound through their doors.

The youngster program begins at 18 months with Parents & Toddlers, and progresses all the way up to high school seniors, 18 years of age. From 18 months until a year and a half, the emphasis is on basic motor skills. Etiquette and life lessons are integral to the movement experiences, which educate children to be patient and polite, wait their turn and learn how to share, said teacher Shelley K. Grantham, who is also the PeriChild Program Coordinator.

With the little ones, teachers have to know how to shift gears according to the mood of the class. "They have to be aware of not only physically what that age can do, but also emotionally at different ages. Many have master's in dance education and have studied childhood development, and they come in with a large curriculum of tricks and props," said Grantham.

The Young Ballet Program is for ages 5 and up. Nancy S. Smith, the assistant coordinator who teaches tap, modern, jazz, choreography during the semester it is offered, ballet-tap combo, creative movement and creative ballet, works with five-to-fifteen-year-olds. With her fives, she emphasizes language and imagery, like flowers growing, fairy wings lifting up and down, painting a rainbow with legs. There is a lot of stretching, making bridges and obstacles to skip around. "The kids go home and show what they have learned. It gives them self-confidence, leadership qualities and pride. Parents love it," she said.

Her fifteen-year-olds need flexibility, strengthening, muscle toning, body awareness and breathing. "They don't know their sternum from their scapula," she said. "Anatomically, I am teaching them about their body."

The Core Ballet Program, from 8 to 18, is for students selected from within the ballet technique classes who want to train for future auditioning for the PeriChild Ensemble, the professional dance company for high schoolers. The Ensemble students take six technique classes a week. This year, Ensemble guest choreographers are Diego Funes, with a background in classical ballet and musical theater, Sean Curran, New York choreographer with his own company, and Marnie Thomas, 73, who danced with Martha Graham and directed and taught at the Graham School. "It's definitely a unique program because the students can work with professional choreographers even before college," said Grantham.

The Teen Ballet Program is a more challenging curriculum. Teens with no prior dance experience can also take classes, but they must begin with ballet to learn the core fundamentals of placement, coordination and musicality even though they are interested in modern and jazz. The classes provide two tracks: for those who enjoy dance as a hobby and a great exercise workout, and for those who want to train to be a dance major in college or a professional dancer.

Grantham observed that the influence of the TV program, "So You Think You Can Dance," which features contemporary, moody, lyrical choreography, is what kids want to learn. "It's what's hot and fresh. But we also teach them where it started, so we go back to the jazz styles of Luigi and Matt Mattox and try to influence them." She continued, "Modern dance today is more physical, like Momix, with aerial work and swinging from the ceiling, which we hope to offer in our new space."

Peridance founder and artistic director Igal Perry, an internationally recognized dancer, teacher and choreographer and 2007 inductee into the Dance Library of Israel Hall of Fame, has negotiated a long-term lease with the owners of the historic building, at one time an auction mart for horses and carriages whose clients included the Vanderbilts, Belmonts and Whitneys, and a training center for women assembly workers during World War II. Stella, the last tenant, sold the building for a reported $10 to $12 million to the current owners, who wanted to tear it down and replace it with a seven-story apartment building. After fierce opposition from the neighborhood and preservationists, they agreed to list it on the State and National Register of Historic Places, not quite landmarked, but the exterior is saved from alteration.

Perry received permission to excavate and build a lower level in order to add a third floor. There are six studios, one of which can be separated by a sound proof wall to make a seventh. "The exposed original red brick in the back studios and the super high ceilings make it an incredibly exciting place to create dance," said Grantham.

One of the studios opens up to a white box 200-seat theater with bleachers and minimal lights, "so as not to scare the little ones when they perform," explained Grantham. The annual 45-minute show of three-minute dances, gives the youngest dancers in Creative Movement, Creative Ballet and Young Tapper classes a chance to show off for parents and for each other. The six-to- 18-year-olds perform at the 850-seat theater at City College's Aaron Davis Hall, which sells out every year.

The program now includes Baila Society for salsa and Yoshi Amao, who brings his traditional samurai sword fighting (not real swords). Djoniba Dance and Drum Centre, which lost its location on 18th St., will partner with PeriDance in the new space. A first for the program is Musical Theater: singing, acting and dancing with John Wellington and voice teacher Nate Weida. "They are working on 'Bye Bye Birdie' and learning to build character, build song, build voice and apply movement to it," said Grantham.

Joining the faculty in the adult program will be former principal ballerinas Gelsey Kirkland (NYC Ballet and ABT) and Susan Jaffe (ABT), as well as a talented roster of contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, tap and flamenco luminaries. Capezio will open a small boutique to sell their dance apparel, and a small café will provide well-needed refreshments.
Hawaiian Boy

Hawaiian Boy

Photo © & courtesy of Todd Carroll


Kids with Parachute

Kids with Parachute

Photo © & courtesy of Todd Carroll


Little Pink Ballerina Profile Photo also courtesy of Meems Images

Little Pink Ballerina Profile
Photo also courtesy of Meems Images

Photo © & courtesy of Melissa Birnbaum


Smile Photo also courtesy of Meems Images

Smile
Photo also courtesy of Meems Images

Photo © & courtesy of Melissa Birnbaum


Woo Hoo Sat

Woo Hoo Sat

Photo © & courtesy of Todd Carroll

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