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Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Santa Parade Nov. 24 starting from Port Jeff train station and running all the way down Main Street. Kids raced after candy thrown from vehicles and greeted Santa as he arrived while members of both the Marchand School of Dance and Shine Dance Studios showed off their routines to the sounds of classic Christmas tunes. Casts of “The Nutcracker” from the Harbor Ballet Theatre and “A Christmas Carol” from Theatre Three showed up in costume as well.

Kiddie Academy hosts second annual Hop-A-Thon to raise money for the Lukemia and Lymphona Society

On Feb. 17, kids between the ages 5 and 12 turned the music up and busted a move for good reason: they helped to raise $575 for those with leukemia and those working to find a cure.

For the second year in a row, Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care in Wading River sponsored a fun-filled and awareness-driven Hop-a-thon for the Long Island chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research, finding cures and providing treatment access for blood cancer patients.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro speaks to kids at Kiddie Academy of Wading River. Photo by Kevin Redding

As part of the organization’s Student Series, which aims to involve young people in the fight against cancer through service learning and character education programs, the event is a dance celebration for kids who, along with their parents, contributed money to the important cause. As leukemia affects more children than any other cancer, the program lets kids help kids while having fun.

But before the academy’s school age kids took to the lobby to hop and bop to songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” they sat down for a brief presentation about what they donated money towards, engaging in true-or-false questionnaires about blood cancers and learning about the “honored heroes” on Long Island — students from local school districts who have beaten cancer.

“Thanks to each and every one of you helping to raise money, kids like these are 100 percent better today and happy and healthy,” Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro told the energetic kids. “You’re dancing for them and I can’t thank you enough.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River students danced during its second annual Hop-A-Thon Feb. 17 to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Socoety. Photo by Kevin Redding

Samantha Wooley, a Kiddie Academy staff member, said the Hop-A-Thon is a reflection of the values of compassion and community contribution the students work on every month.

“In dancing, and just having fun, they’re working as a team and doing this all together,” Wooley said. “It’s broken up into different ages and levels, some of them are more shy while others are outgoing, and we’re just mixing them all together to have one big dance off.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River reached out to the society last year to participate in the program to support one of its students who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and is currently in remission.

Christina St. Nicholas, the director of Kiddie Academy of Wading River, said in a press statement that the Hop-A-Thon was “exactly in line with our curriculum” and the child care’s “strong emphasis on character education.”

“[It’s] an exciting program that will engage our preschoolers and school-age children to help others in a fun, educational way,” St. Nicholas said. “Joining in this program to fight leukemia is one of the many ways we strive to model the values of community, compassion and cooperation each and every day.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River staff member Michele Boccia, on left, and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro, on right, talk to students about the lives they’re helping save. Photo by Kevin Redding

Nearly all 35 students in the school-age department of Kiddie Academy participated, with each classroom collecting bags of loose change. The childcare center also reached out to parents, who had the option to pay through a website or submit a check. Donations ranged from $25 to $75.

Kristin Lievre, a mother of two Kiddie Academy students from Wading River, said it’s important that the kids learn at an early age to give back to the community.

“I think it’s good to see there are ways we can help people through things like this,” she said. “This makes them feel good about what they can do for others.”

Sophia, 10, one of the star dancers of the day, echoed Lievre.

“It feels good because we can raise money for the people who are sick so they can get better,” she said, “and don’t have to deal with the sickness anymore.”

A scene featuring principal dancer Alexandra Palma as Sugar Plum with a host of Angels opening Act II from last year’s production of ‘The Nutcracker.’ Photo from Dimitri Papadakos

The Seiskaya Ballet School is always on point, especially around the holidays. For the past 21 years the company has performed its rendition of “The Nutcracker” at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center and this year is no different.

“Christmas is [The] Nutcracker,” said Valia Seiskaya. Russian-born Seiskaya has choreographed the school’s “Nutcracker” since 1995 when they started performing the production at the Staller Center. While “The Nutcracker” is popular around the holiday season, the ballet school took a theatrical approach to the performance. Dimitri Papadakos, the ballet school’s administrator and Seiskaya’s husband, said the  performance will include a flying sleigh, a dragon that blows smoke and other elements that will bring the performance to life.

“If you’re going to do something you might as well try to do it better than anybody else,” Papadakos said. “So we got creative in our sets.”

The backdrops for the school’s annual production are tailored specifically to the Staller Center stage. Viewers can get a hint of scenes to come by looking at the backdrops during the performance. While the production is designed for a full theatrical experience  that will keep even the youngest audience members glued to their seats, the dramatic setting isn’t the only captivating aspect of Seiskaya’s “Nutcracker” — it’s also about the acting and dancing of the production’s 90- to 100-member cast.

Soloist Diana Atoian is returning for another shot at “The Nutcracker.” Like many “Nutcracker” performers, 14-year-old Diana has several roles including Clara. She said what makes Seiskaya’s rendition of “The Nutcracker” so unique is the dancers dedication to their craft.

“It’s just the passion that gets us going,” Diana said. “Valia is a very good teacher. She helps us feel it and she makes us want to keep pushing and keep moving forward.”

Her fellow soloists, 13-year-old Madison Mursch, 12-year-old Brianna Jimenez and 14-year-old Jenna Lee agreed that Papadakos and Seiskaya push their dancers to execute the choreography and acting correctly. Being strict is part of Seiskaya’s method and it has been since the school was established in 1974.

“My wife does not believe in dumbing down based on who’s available,” Papadakos said. “You’ve got to rise to the occasion.”

Last year the school lost a handful of its older dancers who went on to college. The change left youngsters like Diana, Madison, Jenna and Brianna to take the lead on bigger roles like Clara, the Snow Queen, Sugar Plum and the Chocolate Soldier, respectively. Twyla Tharp Troupe dancer Nick Coppula will be returning to reclaim his role as the Cavalier this year.

Viewers can see these young dancers and get the full theatrical experience on Friday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19, at 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20, at 1 and 6 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 21,  at 7 p.m. at the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University. Tickets are $40 for adults, $34 for children and seniors and $30 for groups of 20 or more. For more information call 631-632-ARTS or visit www.nutcrackerballet.com.

‘Dance of the Haymakers’ by William Sydney Mount, 1845

By Erin Dueñas

The sounds of bluegrass, blues, acoustic and folk music are coming to East Setauket as the fourth annual Fiddle & Folk Festival returns to Benner’s Farm on Sept. 13.

According to Amy Tuttle, program director of the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, a festival sponsor, the festival is a celebration of acoustic music. “The formula we have found to be successful is to bring in a national act, a well-known blues based act and a Long Island band,” Tuttle said.

Headline acts this year include The Kennedy’s, Brooks Williams and Buddy Merriam with his band, Back Roads. During the festival, Merriam will be given the Long Island Sound Award honoring him for bringing bluegrass music to Long Island for 35 years, presented by the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

The festival will feature a main stage where the headliners will perform, as well as a smaller stage that will include workshops and question-and-answer segments with the musicians. Another stage will host a jam session where not only will headliners play together to conclude the concert, but festivalgoers can play their own instruments. A kid’s corner will be set up offering story time and music, and the night will conclude with a contra dance, complete with a live band and caller. The farm will also be open where guests can check out organic gardens, barns and farm animals.

“This is an all-ages, family friendly event that people can either sit back to watch or participate in,” Tuttle said.

Charlie Backfish, who hosts the acoustic music show Sunday Street on WUSB 90.1, the radio station on the campus of SUNY Stony Brook, another festival sponsor, said Benner’s Farm is a good location for the event.

“This is the kind of music you probably could’ve heard at a farm at some point in history,” he said. “It really makes sense to have it there.” Backfish will host the question-and-answer session of the festival.

Bob Benner, who lives and works on the 15-acre farm, said the festival is a celebration of not only music but farm life. Benner referred to a painting at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook by famed local artist William Sydney Mount of a fiddler playing at a barn dance on a farm. “What we are trying to do at the festival is to show what people would do way back when,” he said. “Everyone lived on a farm here on Long Island up until the 1900s.”

The festival is also sponsored by Homestead Arts, the nonprofit educational arm of Benner’s Farm that works toward keeping what Benner called “old time arts and processes” from fading into history. “Homestead arts are all the different things that people had to know how to do away from our modern sensibilities — things like meat processing and vegetable canning,” he said. Music is a big part of that.

“Way back when there were no phonographs, no forms of playing music. The festival has the kind of music you would hear when neighbors got together for haying or working in the fields,” Benner said. “This really is the perfect place for the festival.”

The fourth annual Fiddle & Folk Festival will be held on Sept. 13 at Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 adults, $11 children and seniors. The event will be held rain or shine. Bring a lawn chair or blanket for seating. Food and drink will be available for purchase. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.fiddleandfolk.com.

Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

Walking into the dance studio at the Huntington YMCA feels like walking into a family gathering full of distant relatives you’ve never met before. But the vibe is one of comfort and inclusion, especially if you’ve got a penchant for impromptu group renditions of Taylor Swift songs.

Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

The friendly atmosphere inside the studio is natural, according to dance instructor Pam Christy-Allen, after students, teachers and parents have worked together for as long as they have.

“I have the same kids every year, so I build relationships with them,” Christy-Allen said in a recent interview. “As their sweet sixteens have come we’ve been invited to them and they include you like their family. It’s very rewarding.”

Last month, the YMCA’s dance program turned two decades old, a milestone that staff there celebrated. But there’s no resting on laurels — program leaders say they plan to stay on their toes.

In a recent visit to the program, students showed appreciation for their instructors. Thirteen-year-old hip hop, acro and ballet student Samantha Sluka began taking YMCA dance classes at age 3 and said that Debbie Smith, her ballet teacher, has kept her interested in dancing through the years. Sluka said YMCA classes have improved her self-confidence in addition to technical dance skills, and that in the future she “would love to dance on Broadway”.

Mary Dejana, a 17-year-old tap and jazz student, said that she likes lyrical and contemporary dance styles best because they help her express her feelings. She said that the YMCA program has taught her teamwork.

“Under the tutelage of my ballet, modern and pointe teacher Jo-Ann Hertzman and with the many opportunities the YMCA provided, I have come to understand not only more about dance but more about myself and the world around me,” wrote former student Mariah Anton in a letter to the staff at the YMCA. With plans to continue dancing at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Anton wrote that her “experiences at the YMCA have directed [her] to invest back into others through teaching, encouraging, and opening the world to the next generation in the same way that the YMCA invested in [her].”

Students practice using the bar at the YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Students practice using the bar at the YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

Citing the Huntington YMCA as a “second home … during [her] childhood and early adulthood,” former student Melanie Carminati, now physical therapist and Pilates instructor in East Northport, called the dance program “a safe haven for artistic growth and creativity” in a written statement. She attributed the environment to the guidance of Edie Cafiero, cultural arts director.

Cafiero stressed the importance of allowing dancers to express their creativity from a young age. “We start with 3-year-olds,” he said. “We make it fun while still using terminology and introducing steps. We let them explore themselves at that age.” She said that classes become more serious as students age and advance, but that they have the option to either hone in on certain dance styles or further expand their horizons and learn new styles.

Among some of the less conventional dance classes offered at the YMCA are Irish step, hip hop, acro, lyrical, contemporary, modern and adult ballet.

When asked what factors have contributed most significantly to the success of the Huntington YMCA dance program, Cafiero pointed to the variety of classes offered and the welcome-all attitude of the staff.

She said she walked into a famous ballet school at age 15 “and they told me I was over the hill before seeing me dance. I never wanted a kid to feel like that. We don’t turn anyone away. If they have the passion to dance we want to nurture it.”

Anyone interested in the Huntington YMCA cultural and performing arts program is invited to contact Cafiero at 631-421-4242, ext. 132.

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Port Jefferson school district held its 57th annual senior prom on Monday night. Parents had worked tirelessly to transform Earl L. Vandermeulen High School into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for the event, secretly painting sets and making dummies to surprise the Class of 2015.

From left, Lou Goold, Margaret Foster, Serena Brooks and Joan Wormell. Photo by Rita Egan

By Rita J. Egan

During the evening of the first night of the week, while many are wrapping up their weekends, the Sunday Nite Folk Dancers are kicking up their heels at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Frank Brush Barn. The welcoming group continues the teachings of leading 20th century folk dance teachers Mary Ann and Michael Herman as well as celebrates a tradition that has brought communities together for centuries.

Long-time member Lou Goold, who has been dancing with the group since 1985, said the members follow the folk dance program that the Hermans debuted at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The couple started Folk Dance House in Manhattan, and in the 1970s, after the group changed locations a couple of times in the city, they moved to North Babylon. The Hermans began leading their folk dance classes in Bay Shore and West Islip. After the passing of the couple in the mid-90s, and several years of the dancers meeting in Bay Shore, the group brought their love for folk dancing to Smithtown.

Goold said there are approximately a dozen or more members on any Sunday night who are more than happy to help newcomers learn the 15 or 20 dances a night. He said dance leader Ching-Hui Wu teaches twice a month. On other nights, called co-ops, the members take turns showing their fellow dancers their favorite numbers. “That’s a lot of fun, because we have cooperation. If one person forgets a dance or something like that, somebody else will help them out. So, it’s a very friendly group,” Goold said.

Margaret Foster, a member since the 90s, said she has enjoyed the variety of teachers throughout the years who have shared their specialties. Besides dances from America, there are also pieces from Scotland, Scandinavia, Israel, Bulgaria and other countries. “We enjoy learning something about the dances and the culture of the different places,” Foster said.

Goold said that helping people understand other ethnic groups through dance was a mission of the Hermans. Their motto was: “You can’t hate people when you’re doing their dances.”

Juanita Wetherell, who joined the group about 20 years ago, said she took a few years off to take care of family members. When she returned to the group, she was looking forward to dancing again but was doubtful she could remember the steps.

“When I first came back, I was thinking, ‘I haven’t danced in so long. I’m not going to remember any of the steps. I’m going to be the newbie all over again.’ Yet, I remembered somebody saying, ‘you listen to the music and your feet are going to know what to do’. And, you know, that’s pretty much what happened. The music tells you,” Wetherell said.

Her return reminded the dancer of her early days, when she was confused about rhythms and patterns.

Wetherell said Goold’s wife Kathy, a former dance leader, would sit her down next to her and just show her the footwork. The dancer said learning the steps first while sitting made it easier once she joined other dancers on the floor.

Foster said the leaders go over the sequences, so those who have never folk danced before can easily learn.

“You can come and learn as you go, and you’ll enjoy doing what you can and then you’ll learn more. You’ll start getting used to it next time. It’s the sort of thing that grows on you,” the group member said.

Ziggie Wielunski, a former dance leader, and his wife Alice have been dancing since 1947 and have been members of the Sunday Nite Folk Dancers since the group started meeting on the South Shore. Ziggie explained that folk dances are not that intricate, so anyone interested should come to the barn and try out the dances. Alice added, “The important thing is not to give up after the first time, but to come for a number of times, and you’ll find each time it’s easier and easier.”

The Sunday Nite Folk Dancers meet every Sunday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., except the third Sunday of July and the month of August, at the Smithtown Historical Society Frank Brush Barn located at 211 Main Street in Smithtown. The fee is $8 and no partner is needed. All ages and dance levels are welcomed. For more information, call 516-781-3552 or 631-589-4203.

Elsa Posey is to be honored by the Northport Historical Society at the Northport Yacht Club next week. Photo from Posey

By Susan Risoli

Elsa Posey, founder and director of Northport’s Posey School, will be recognized by the Northport Historical Society next week for her lifelong commitment to dance education.

A dinner and dance in Posey’s honor will be held on May 30 at 7 p.m. at the Northport Yacht Club. Proceeds from the event will support the historical society’s community and education programs.

In an interview this week, Posey said she was grateful to be honored and pleased that the recognition would bring attention to the dance school she opened in 1953. She brought her love of dance to Northport because it is her birthplace, she said, and because “I love it here. I’m a sailor. Just being near the water is important to me.”

Posey describes herself as a dance historian. She and her staff teach the legacy of choreography and the freedom of improvisation. Building on tradition in dance means the individual dancer is “never alone. You are supported by all the dancers that went before you,” Posey said.

Dancing is alive with what she called “the spirits, the ancestors” of those who have performed and loved dance through the ages. Posey School students often recreate historic dances, the founder said, including minuets from the 1400s and 1500s. Posey said her students will perform excerpts from the ballet “Swan Lake” — a work from the 1800s, she pointed out — at Northport Middle School on June 6.

A distinguishing characteristic of her school is the lack of recitals. Posey is not a fan, she said, of recitals where children are not really dancing but merely reproducing steps by rote. Instead, “we do performances when the dancers have something to show,” she said. “They’re performing with the music, to bring out the elements that were intended in the role.” That flow between dancer and music is achieved through performance plus education, Posey said. She herself was trained at the School of American Ballet in New York City as a youngster. Today her students — who range in age from preschoolers to seniors — take classes in ballet, modern dance, jazz, folk and country dances.

Elsa Posey is to be honored by the Northport Historical Society at the Northport Yacht Club next week. Photo from Posey
Elsa Posey is to be honored by the Northport Historical Society at the Northport Yacht Club next week. Photo from Posey

The school is not about competition among students. “We don’t compare one person with another,” Posey said. “It’s not that you’re better than somebody else.”

Dance inspires in many ways, Posey said, and can even improve lives. “I help the children understand dance as a part of history and their culture,” she explained. Appreciating cultural differences, and the values held by those who live in other places, “is what makes us better people.”

Make no mistake — though dance is surely physical, it’s much more than athletics, Posey said. “Dance is not a sport. It’s an art.” Musicians, too, she said, know that music and movement can create “an opening of the mind.”

Posey was the founder and first president of the National Dance Education Organization, which gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award. She is current president of the National Registry of Dance Educators, a group of master teachers of dance.

Heather Johnson, director of the Northport Historical Society, said the organization is honoring Posey because “she always talks about how great the community is here. But she’s part of what makes it wonderful.” Posey “is so very dedicated to her students,” Johnson said. “And she’s also been a supporter of the historical society.”

In a press release from the historical society, Steven King, president of the society’s board, said, “The entire Northport community has benefited greatly from Elsa Posey’s commitment to providing dance instruction and performance.”

By Julianne Cuba

Peaches Rodriguez, a break dancing pioneer, stand-up comedian and East Northport resident who broke into stardom after her role in the 1984 film, “Beat Street,” is the unlikely doppelgänger of a well-known French politician.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Peaches Rodriguez
Comic and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Rodriguez

After a break dancing competition in Queens last month, Abdel Karim, who is a hip-hop choreographer and a friend of a friend of Rodriguez on Facebook, created a video meme of Rodriguez break dancing with the suggestion that it was actually Marine Le Pen, the popular nationalistic politician, dancing just after local elections in France.

Because of its extreme absurdity, the video went viral in France, with nearly 300,000 views on Facebook. That video, along with a second video of Rodriguez and a few other break-dancers, also went viral in the United States, with more than 100,000 hits.

“It’s always good to get exposure no matter how you get it,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview this week. “You can’t control something that goes viral. And you have to take it as it comes. It’s almost so random you just have to roll with it and enjoy it as it happens … the views are continuing to go up.”

It’s as if there was a video of a Hillary Clinton look-alike break dancing after an election, Rodriguez suggested for comparison — because that’s exactly what happened, she said.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license
A video of Peaches Rodriguez has gone viral, due to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license

In the 1980s, after moving from Connecticut to New York with the hopes of beginning a career in comedy, Rodriguez said she got into break dancing after realizing how good she actually was at that style of dance.

Today, Rodriguez still does both — stand-up comedy and break dancing. But her main job is a traveling comedian in the tristate area, she said.

“I break-dance part time, they have battles and events,” she said. “It’s a cool underground scene.”

Rodriguez also spends her time mentoring young, novice dancers in the industry.

Due to her new intercontinental fame, Rodriguez said she has a few gigs already lined up in the U.S.
Rodriguez added that if Clinton wins the 2016 presidential election, she would not hesitate to dress up like the former U.S. secretary of state and bust a move or two.