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Footwork

For Adult Dancers, School's In at Bryn Mawr

By D.C. Culbertson | Posted 5/17/2000

It's not terribly hard to find dance lessons in the Baltimore area--if you're a kid. Most of the instruction offered by local studios targets young people, and those that do have adult classes often require a regular commitment of some kind--to a weekly schedule or participation in a recital--that adult dancers aren't able (or don't wish) to make.

"There's a huge population of dancers around here who drive to D.C. to take class and moan and groan because there's nowhere [in Baltimore] to take class," says Julie Peoples, dance- company director and a part-time instructor at North Baltimore's Bryn Mawr School. Peoples used to be one of them, commuting twice a week to Washington's Dance Place for classes. But she was frustrated at having to go so far, and also found that the classes frequently conflicted with her teaching schedules.

So Peoples decided to do something about it. Her Bryn Mawr job gave her access to a large dance studio that was rarely used in the evenings. Why not use it to host a series of adult dance classes students could attend on a drop-in basis?

The result is a series of twice-a-week master classes at the Bryn Mawr studio. The Tuesday- and Thursday-evening sessions began, appropriately, during National Dance Week (the last week of April) and will continue until June 8. Attendees pay $9 per class, and no preregistration is required.

To Peoples, the program is about more than having a place close to home to dance; it's about bringing some unity to what she characterizes as a "really separated" Baltimore dance community, which lacks amenities such as a common performance venue like Washington's Dance Place ("Feet to the Fire," CP, 10/21/98). To that end, she plans to expand extracurricular use of the studio to include other events, such as informal showings of work by local choreographers. She and Emily Giza, a dancer whom Peoples met when both were students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, have discussed holding regular "First Tuesday" dance events (although they haven't made any concrete plans). "I think that would really help build the dance community and unite it," Peoples says.

Peoples took her dance-class idea to Carolyn Helfman, Bryn Mawr's associate head, who in turn set up a meeting with Head of School Rebecca Fox; Karen Corsey, director of external programs; and Deborah Prout, assistant head of school for institutional advancement. Prout says Peoples' timing couldn't have been better.

"Julie came to us with this project when we were thinking of ways we could create other opportunities for the community, and this seemed like the perfect f it," Prout says. While the school lends its facilities to several arts-related activities during the summer, including various camps and the Young Victorian Theatre Co., they are hardly ever used for such purposes during the school year, she says. "We're thinking more and more about the ways we can use this connection, particularly in the arts. . . . Rebecca just thought [hosting dance classes] was a fabulous idea."

In addition to providing studio space and helping to put together press releases, Bryn Mawr helped Peoples apply successfully for a Maryland State Arts Council Artists in Communities Grant to fund the teachers' salaries, and allowed Peoples and her fiancé, Dave Clark, who have their own company, to use the studio for rehearsals.

Right from the start, Peoples decided that the classes should be taught by a different dancer each week so students would be exposed to a wider variety of teachers and types of instruction than they would in a more traditional class. Among those who have led or are scheduled to lead Bryn Mawr classes are Darla Stanley, a former instructor at UMBC who has worked with Philadelphia's ZeroMoving; Cathy Paine, who teaches several dance methods out of her home; Lynn Falk, a member of Deborah Riley Dance Projects and Doug Hamby Dance; Linda McDevitt, a graduate of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance who currently teaches at Goucher College; Sandra Lacy, this year's recipient of the Maryland State Arts Council's Solo Artist Award, who teaches at UMBC and the Baltimore School for the Arts; Stephanie Powell, another State Arts Council award winner, who recently founded her own ensemble and studio; and Peoples and Clark, who will devote their classes to contemporary partnering. Although instruction is on an intermediate/advanced level, Peoples stresses that dancers of all levels are welcome.

Peoples acknowledges that, while she's gotten lots of calls about the classes, attendance "has been kind of off and on--enrollment's been low." (On the night I attended, Clark and Peoples were the only other participants.) Peoples suspects the relatively early start times may be putting a damper on attendance and plans to bump the classes back to 7 P.M. if she can arrange another session this fall.

Despite the classes' slow start, Prout says the school stands behind Peoples' ideas. Bryn Mawr has already committed to having the classes next spring, and a local dance showcase is planned for March 2001. "[Peoples] has an incredible vision of what a dance community in Baltimore could be," Prout says, "and we're glad to support her in that."

For more information about the dance classes at Bryn Mawr, call (410) 869-7963.

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