Tags Posts tagged with "Ballet"


A scene from a previous production of ‘The Nutcracker.’ Photo from Dimitri Papadakos

The Seiskaya Ballet’s Nutcracker, a perennial holiday favorite on Long Island, returns to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts Main Stage, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook for a five-performance run from Dec. 15 to 17. This classical ballet rendition has earned praise from critics and audiences alike. 

Seiskaya Ballet principal dancer Madeleine Martufi

The cast will be led by guest artist David Wright, dancing the dual roles of Cavalier/Nutcracker, a featured artist with the Dance Theater of Harlem. Seiskaya Ballet’s award winning principal dancers Vivian Ye, Madeleine Martufi, Nina Zhang and Kaede Urso plus returning principal dancers Brianna Jimenez, Eva Pyrros, Diana Atoian and Lara Caraiani.

Seiskaya Ballet’s Nutcracker is truly an international collaboration beginning with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s most famous score.  Sets and several costumes were designed by Poland’s Margaret Piotrowska whose highly respected work in Polish television and stage productions has garnered wide praise. Directed by founder Joseph Forbes, scenery was executed by Scenic Art Studios which has been credited with painting over 300 Broadway shows.  The imaginative and unusual sculptures utilized in the Seiskaya Ballet’s production were the brainchild of creative artist Matt Targon. Choreographed by celebrated Russian-born Valia Seiskaya, this acclaimed production is imbued with bravura dancing, energy and endearing charisma.

Performances will be held on Friday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are $45 for adults, $38 children and seniors. To order, call 631-632-ARTS (2787) or visit www.nutcrackerballet.com.

Tanaquil Le Clercq, backstage at City Center, ca. 1954, © Anton Alterman/Harold Roth Photography

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Ballet is an ephemeral art, embedded in the mortal human body.”

Author Orel Protopopescu

Principal ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq (1929-2000) was the fourth and final wife of choreographer and founder of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine. Tanaquil—known as “Tanny”—was a muse to Balanchine as well as the genre-crossing Jerome Robbins. Both legendary artists created immortal works for Le Clercq. At twenty-seven, she contracted polio, ending her career as a dancer but not her connection to the art of dance. 

Illustrated by 100 photos, Dancing Past the Light (University Press of Florida) is a fascinating account of Le Clercq—her vocation, her challenges, and the underlying strength and humanity that allowed her to triumph in the face of a devastating illness. Author Orel Protopopescu provides almost a dual biography of Le Clercq and Balanchine, two lives that remained inseparable even after their divorce. 

Le Clercq descended from affluent, educated people: “On both sides, Tammy’s immediate ancestors were adventurous, artistic, worldly, and liberal-minded for their times.” However, her parent’s fiscal situation was tenuous. Her St. Louis debutante mother, Edith, was the driving force behind her early dancing, enrolling her at New York City’s King-Coit School. As a scholarship student in theatre and art, she performed for the first time at five years old. By age seven, she was studying at Mikhail Mordkin’s ballet school. She entered Balanchine’s School of American Ballet at age eleven, awarded one of the school’s first full scholarships. 

Her acceptance to the school coincided with the final dissolution of her parent’s marriage, strained by her father’s excessive drinking. The couple separated in 1946. Her father would remarry; her mother would remain single and a constant if sometimes unwanted presence in Le Clercq’s life. “The umbilical cord had stretched a bit further over the years but was never severed.”

The author provides detailed accounts of the demanding training, the rehearsals, and especially the performances. She conveys Le Clercq as an artist-in-motion, and the descriptions are exceptional. Additionally, Protopopescu traces her rise in the company, balancing the personal and professional particulars with dozens of interviews with friends and colleagues. 

Tanaquil Le Clercq, backstage at City Center, ca. 1954, © Anton Alterman/Harold Roth Photography

At the center is her connection with Balanchine whom she saw as “an old fogey” until she began receiving more personal instruction. Balanchine was a demanding director, influencing every area of his dancers’ lives, particularly the female dancers. 

Balanchine preferred “thin, tall female dancers with long necks and limbs.” Le Clercq epitomized this. While there were hints of Balanchine’s interest, by the time she was twenty, he was no longer hiding it. There were strong possibilities that he sabotaged or at least manipulated elements of her personal and romantic life.

The Le Clercq-Balanchine courtship and marriage are explored with great insight, including the complications rooted in the age difference and Balanchine’s need to seek a younger muse. Balanchine proposed Christmas 1952. She was twenty-three to his forty-eight. Without hesitation, she excepted, and they were married on New Year’s Eve. But, true to form, the work came first. They premiered the ballet Concertino the night before.

Le Clercq worked well and often with the mercurial and demanding Jerome Robbins. As with Balanchine, the complicated professional-personal relationship is surveyed with respect and candor and the complex triangle that existed between the three.

Protopopescu provides a visceral report of the European tour of 1956, during which Le Clercq contracted polio. At that time, her marriage to Balanchine was waning, and she had no desire to go. Following her contraction of the disease, Le Clercq faced a long recovery and the harsh reality of knowing that she would never dance again. “I’m not a dancer anymore. Who am I?” This was the question she faced after over two decades of dancing. 

A brutal, vivid picture of a polio victim follows, showing both the physical and psychological pains and the life limitations. But it also shows Le Clercq transforming by fearlessly facing the problems. As her friend Pat McBride explained: “Her wit and strength never left her nor did she indulge in self-pity. It was always a treat to be in her vivacious company.”

Eventually, she coached and taught at Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem using hand gestures—“a sort of balletic sign language”—to convey the choreography while seated in her wheelchair. The author touches upon the issue of race in the dance world and the lack of diversity and underrepresentation of African-Americans in Balanchine’s company. While not an activist, Le Clercq’s work with the DTH spoke volumes.

Dancing Past the Light will be of particular interest to ballet fans; it is an extraordinary celebration of a life in dance, with its highs and lows, challenges and rewards. It is an honest study of the people with whom one makes art. It is also a beautiful, authentic portrait of an exceptionally strong individual who faced a cataclysmic shift and rose above it.


A resident of Miller Place, Orel Protopopescu is an award-winning author, poet, and translator. Dancing Past the Light: The Life of Tanaquil Le Clercq is her first biography. Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.orelprotopopescu.com.


Seiskaya Ballet principal Lara Caraiani and guest artist Blake Krapels will dazzle when they perform the elegant Sugar Plum Pas de Deux. 

The Seiskaya Ballet’s The Nutcracker, a perennial holiday favorite on Long Island, returns to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook for a six-performance run from Dec. 16 to 19. This classical ballet rendition has earned praise from critics and audiences alike. 

Hailed as Long Island’s most lavish “Nutcracker,” the Seiskaya Ballet production of the classic holiday ballet is a truly international collaboration beginning with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s most famous score. Sets and several costumes were designed by Poland’s Margaret Piotrowska whose highly respected work in Polish television and stage productions has garnered wide praise. 

Directed by founder Joseph Forbes, scenery was executed by Scenic Art Studios which has been credited with painting over 300 Broadway shows. The imaginative and unusual sculptures utilized in the Seiskaya Ballet’s production were the brainchild of creative artist Matt Targon. Choreographed by celebrated Russian-born Valia Seiskaya, this acclaimed production is imbued with bravura dancing, energy and endearing charisma.

The cast will be led by BalletX standout, guest artist, Blake Krapels (Cavalier) plus Seiskaya Ballet’s award winning Principal Dancers Lara Caraiani, Kyra Allgaier, Rachel Bland and Maya Butkevich.

Performances will be held on Thursday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. 

Tickets are $40 for adults, $34 children and seniors and $30 for groups of 20 or more at the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-ARTS and at www.nutcrackerballet.com. (Attended box office hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and two hours prior to all performances. Online seat selection is available for all shows.)



Little ballerinas wear their masks and stay in their special boxes to maintain social distancing at Chance to Dance in Setauket. Photo by Julianne Mosher

They all decided to think outside the box when it comes to socially distanced dancing. 

When dance studios across Long Island had to close their doors at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic back in March, owners were concerned about what that meant for their studios. 

Ballerinas at Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jefferson Station balance in their boxes. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Gwenn Capodieci, executive director at Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jefferson Station, said in her 35 years at the studio, this year was unlike any other. 

“This was probably one of the hardest times of my life,” she said. “It was so very stressful trying to get the PPP loans, any other grants, working with our landlords, worrying about not being at the studio — I’m in the risky age group and I want to continue doing what I love.”

But within a week after the shutdown, she said, Backstage posted 65 classes to Zoom.

“Teaching on zoom was difficult,” she said. “In the beginning the kids were excited, but then it wore off. Part of dancing is they’re your family, you want to see them in class.”

Capodieci said her studio surveyed parents on holding a recital — a rite of passage for many ballerinas where they adorn sparkly tutu’s and dance for their families on the big stage after months of rehearsals. They decided to cancel it this year. 

But in mid-July they were allowed to reopen in person, changing shape, and adhering to the new state’s guidelines for teaching. Inside her studio taped to the floor are different grids, a socially distanced box for each dancer to twirl and tap in, while wearing their newest accessory — a mask.

Ballerinas at the barre stay six feet away from each other during warmups. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We’ve perfected the cleaning routine,” she said. “We clean the floors in between every class, wipe down the barres and have taken every chair, cubby and bench that’s in the studio away.”

“I want to be safe,” she added. “I don’t want to get anyone sick, and I don’t want to close my business.”

Capodieci said the added costs of Zoom and the cleaning supplies took a toll, especially with enrollment down.

“Enrollment was 60-something percent of what we normally have,” she said. “I’m hoping that next year is a good year for us.”

Down the road, also in Port Jefferson Station, Port Jefferson Dance Academy was celebrating its 25th year in business when the virus struck.

“We did not do Zoom classes, instead I started a private Facebook page and my teachers would upload videos so students can do classes, warmups, barre work and across the floor whenever they chose to so they wouldn’t have to miss out on a Zoom meeting time or class,” Director Tara Lennstrom said. “Financially it was rough because I wasn’t making a profit off of that. The hope was when we opened up again, we could just resume where we left off.”

The outdoor stage at Port Jefferson Dance Academy. Photo from PJ Dance Academy

When they opened back up during Phase 4, they picked up on rehearsals for their recital. Normally the dancers perform at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University but were unable to due to COVID. She decided to hold an outdoor recital, instead. 

“I rented a giant dance floor with a DJ to play the music and people didn’t feel like they were behind the shopping center,” she said. “It was one of the most difficult recitals I’ve ever had to put together, but it was probably one of the best.”

Now in its 26th year, her classes look a little different. “We have 10 students per class, and I have a rather large studio, so that gives us ample space to dance,” she said. “People seem to be happy that there is something for their kids to do that’s fun and creative.”

Decked in their leotards and masks, Lennstrom said her students are not even phased by the new guidelines anymore.

“The resilience these kids have just shows you how they were able to adapt and how flexible they are,” she said.

Gabrielle Cambria, special productions manager at Chorus Line Dance Studio in Smithtown and Miller Place, said opening back up under the new guidelines was a no-brainer.

Ballerinas must stay within their boxes at Chorus Line Dance Studio in Smithtown. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We all know that physical health isn’t the only health you need,” she said. “Everyone’s been really lucky and safe at our studio, and we’ve been dancing ever since.”

Chorus Line also implemented a large TV screen into their classrooms so students can Zoom in from home. 

“Our in-class group is cut in half, so they go back and forth each week,” Cambria added. 

Chance to Dance in Setauket did the same thing and opened up a Google Classroom account back in April.

“Anybody can take virtual class if they want to,” Jennifer Kranenberg, studio owner said. “If they’re not comfortable yet coming to class, they can still do something.”

Kranenberg said the virtual option was one positive that came out of COVID, because it allows students to makeup a class from home, or if they’re feeling slightly under the weather, they can still dance online. 

Young members of Chance to Dance studio in Setauket are also being recorded and livestreamed for other members not present. Photo by Julianne Mosher

At the start of the pandemic, Kranenberg said she knew how important the social aspect was for her students, so she added bonus weekly fun calendar of events including show and tells, Netflix movie nights, tea parties and family game nights online so her kids could still communicate virtually. She also featured her graduating seniors on social media, along with a surprise graduation car parade and a small, socially distanced prom. 

“I gave a huge piece of myself to make sure that the kids were having fun, staying engaged and getting to be with each other, having interactions with their dance friends,” she said. “It goes a long way.”

And, like the other studios, she faced similar challenges. She had to cut one of her three rooms to maintain a cap on students. “Enrollment is definitely low,” she said. “I wish it was higher than it was, but it’s not awful. I feel hopeful, but I’m scared. I feel like it’s a tight margin financially to, swing it and to get by.”

Miss Gwenn and her students at Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jeff Station. Photo by Julianne Mosher

being in different locations with different students and classes, all four owners can agree that being back with their students was worth the hardship they faced the last nine months.

Capodieci said that her first day back in the studio she cried when she saw her students. 

“I love teaching dance,” she said. “I love my kids. I want to be with them, and if wearing the mask allows us to dance then we have to wear a mask.”


Principal dancer Diana Atoian

The Ballet Education and Scholarship Fund, Inc. (BESFI) has announced that its 38th annual benefit performances will be held Friday, May 26, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 27 at 2 p.m. at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook.

The program will feature three noted guest artists: Boyko Dossev formerly with Boston Ballet, Darren McIntyre formerly with Milwaukee Ballet and Alan Alberto with the Festival Ballet. They will be paired with Seiskaya Ballet principal dancers Jenna Lee, Diana Atoian and Brianna Jimenez and join 1st soloists Amber Donnelly, Jamie Bergold, Graciela Carrero-Sagona and Ava Aubé in a series of exciting pas de deux. Among the pas are Paquita, Talisman, Le Corsaire, Harlequinade and Diana & Acteon, plus, the Swan Lake Pas de Trois.

The Benefit Program’s centerpiece will be the one-act ballet, Walpurgis Night featuring Seiskaya Ballet’s Diana Atoian and 1st soloist Max Lippman. Set to the vibrant music of Charles Gounod and drawn from the opera Faust, Walpurgis Night loosely depicts the celebration of Bacchus (the god of wine and revelry), the Bacchantes (his priestesses), and Satyrs (his demigod attendants), on the eve of May Day. Three rousing character ballets are intertwined in the program. Featuring the tantalizing Gypsy Dance led by Jenna Lee, the jaunty Gypsy Pas pairing Max Lippman and Seiskaya 1st soloist Lara Caraiani, and the robust ethnic dance Siberian round out the program.

Noted for the consistent high quality of its presentations, the BESFI Benefit is always a highlight of the dance season. Brilliant sets and costumes, noted professional guest artists and riveting choreography make for exciting performances. Tickets are on sale now through the BESFI Box Office at 631-584-0192 or at the door with adults, $30, children and seniors, $24 and groups of 20 or more, $20.

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A scene from the New York Dance Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo from Frank Ohman.

New York Dance Theatre, under the direction of former New York City Ballet soloist Frank Ohman, will present its 35th season of “The Nutcracker” at Hofstra University, 1000 Fulton Ave., Hempstead, on Dec. 17 and 18 at noon and 5 p.m. on both days.

With the elegant Christmas party scene, the battle of the toy soldiers and giant mice, the live snow storm and the brilliant dancing in the Land of the Sweets, “The Nutcracker” will appeal to all ages. Special guest artists Alicia Holloway and DaVon Doane of the Dance Theatre of Harlem will appear as the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Philip Leclose, who performed the role of the young Prince for two consecutive years at Lincoln Center, will appear in that same role in Ohman’s 2016 production. In all, a cast of 80 children, pre-professional and professional dancers will bring this classic story ballet to life on the stage of Hofstra’s John Cranford Adams Playhouse.

Tickets for this full production ballet are $42 adults, $32 seniors and children 12 and under and may be purchased online at www.ohmanballet.org or by calling 631-462-0964.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

By Kevin Redding

Toy soldiers, angels, sword-wielding mice and a sugar plum fairy are back in town to spread the magic of Christmas to audiences young and old.

For more than two decades, the North Shore community has looked to Port Jefferson’s Harbor Ballet Theatre to officially kick off the holiday season each year with its dazzling production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”Coming up on its 25th anniversary production, the not-for-profit dance company gears up to deliver another unforgettable spectacle. John Worrell, executive artistic director of the show, said that the calibre of their production has helped it become a holiday tradition among the community.

“The dancing, the dancers, the choreography and the sets are incredible,” said Worrell. “Just the way that we tell the story is very understandable and very easy for everyone to follow. It really sets the tone for Port Jefferson and Setauket and Stony Brook and Miller Place because everybody gravitates to get that holiday feeling.”

Harbor Ballet Theatre was founded in 1991 by Worrell and his wife Amy Tyler as an open company to give dancers of all ages the opportunity to be part of professionally staged ballet productions. Worrell said it was also created to allow anybody from anywhere to come and audition, which is why there are so many new faces on a year-to-year basis as well as longtime dancers.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.
A scene from last year’s performance of ‘The Nutracker.’ Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

This production will feature about 70 performers, a majority of them between the ages 6 and 25. Auditions were held in the second week of September and the first rehearsal took place on the first weekend of October, giving way to 10 to 12 strenuous yet worthwhile rehearsals before the final show. Some of the senior dancers in the show even committed six to seven days a week for at least two hours a day to rehearsal.

“That whole debate whether dance is a sport … they [dancers] train like athletes,” said Worrell. “They work drills everyday. To be able to get to the level they want to be and be able to do their solos in the second act and lift each other up, they have to work their butts off.”

Richard Liebert and Rebecca Stafford, seniors from Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, are among some of the more experienced dancers in the production. Liebert, who plays the Mouse King, said there are a lot of physical challenges.

“There are times [in the show] where I have to lift a girl over my head and turn her,” said Liebert. “It could be a bit intimidating … but it’s worthwhile. I love doing it.”

“We’re with our friends, so we’re having fun,” said Stafford, who plays Harlequin.

Worrell said that at the start of production, he and Amy watched the DVD from the previous year’s show and figured out what, if anything, they wanted to change. The most common changes year-to-year have to do with solos, which depend on the dancers in the show, what their strengths are, and what they feel most comfortable doing.

Worrell said that there are plans to add a new element this year but wants to keep it a surprise and “make sure that it works first.”“We try to add something new every year, every two years … just to keep it fresh, so the audience will find it fun to watch,” he said.

Join Harbor Ballet Theatre in celebrating its 25th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” and prepare to be swept away by the extravagant sets, rich costumes, passionate acting and dancing and Tchaikovsky’s masterful music.

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson. All seats are $25 in advance, cash or check only. For more information, please call 631-331-3149.

A scene from a previous 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 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.

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.”