Renewed interest keeps studios busy

REDancers teacher Tiffany Robinson (right) shows student Shakerra Thomas some hip-hop moves during a class Saturday morning at the Riverhead studio.

These are not your mother’s dance lessons. North Forkers have taken a liking to the freestyle abandon of hip-hop and other modern dance forms, which has helped to fuel the growing number of studios here as the genres of dance classes here have expanded to everything from Latin dance workouts to lyrical dance — a blend of interpretive and ballet styles — to cheerleading and gymnastic-fueled classes.

Katie Sousa opened North Fork Dancers in Cutchogue in February. She ran a dance studio in her native Massachusetts for six years before relocating to Southold last September.

She studied dance at the Dean College School of Dance in Franklin, Mass., and at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Manhattan before opening her first studio. She teaches ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, modern, ballroom and lyrical dance. She’s also added Zumba Latin dance workout classes to her lineup, which currently comprises more than 20 classes each week for ages 3 to adult.

“I’m impressed with how many adults I have, and it’s not just ballroom, it’s tap and ballet,” she said. “I have one tap class with a lot of women in their 60s and 70s. They absolutely love it. They do it for exercise.”

Ms. Sousa, 29, thought she was going to stop dancing and begin a corporate career in banking when she moved to Southold, but realized two months after switching careers that she wanted to continue to dance every day. She saw the space for rent and signed the lease just a few weeks later.

“When I checked into it, there weren’t many studios nearby,” she said.

“Hip-hop is in the most demand, that and modern dance,” she said, adding that the hip-hop classes, in particular, are as popular with boys as with girls.

North Fork Dancers also offers summer camps and dance birthday parties, and will likely have school vacation camps this winter. Currently, classes are divided by age ranges, but Ms. Sousa hopes to add more advanced classes as her students continue to progress.

The studio will have its first recital at the end of this school year, though Ms. Sousa hasn’t yet booked a venue for the performance. North Fork Dancers will continue to accept new students through December. “Then we hold off until the summer. By December, they’ve already done so much training that the new students will be behind,” she said.

Ms. Sousa isn’t the region’s only dancer turned entrepreneur, though she is the newest on the scene.

Renee De Chalus, who studied with the Venettes Cultural Workshop and the Eglevsky Ballet Broadway Dance Center, has been on the East End dance scene for nearly 30 years. She was working as the director of the dance program at Riverhead’s Pulaski Street School in the mid-1980s when she decided to open her own studio, REDancers, on East Main Street, in order to accommodate a greater variety of classes.

“It was time to expand,” she said. “We were limited to just dance, but now we do tumbling, musical theater.”

REDancers also offers classes in ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop and lyrical dance.

Ms. De Chalus said that lyrical dance is a new term for what in the past had been considered “interpretive” dance and that, though lyrical dance incorporates the interpretive nature of modern dance, it has more of a strong foundation in ballet.

“Most people are interested in hip-hop classes. [In the 1980s], more people were interested in tap, jazz and ballet,” said Ms. De Chalus.

REDancers has also had competitive dance teams for young adults since the mid 1990s. This year’s team will compete at the national level next July. The competitive teams comprise students from fourth grade through high school who perform every style of dance and practice from four to eight hours per week, depending on their ages.

“We’ve always had students who were interested in pushing the envelope and challenging themselves,” said Ms. De Chalus.

The Dance Center of Mattituck has also been a longtime local fixture. Colette Sewall opened the Love Lane studio 17 years ago, after selling two large studios she owned in Shirley and Center Moriches.

Raised in New York City, where she studied at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Harkness Dance Center, Ms. Sewall performed off-Broadway, in Atlantic City dance reviews and in classical theater before moving to Shirley 30 years ago. She took a year off after moving to Jamesport in 1997, but found that she missed teaching dance enough to want to open another studio.

The Dance Center of Mattituck provides training for students as young as 3 years old up to high school seniors.

“I’ve taught thousands and thousands of students. I used to have 900 per year at my other studios. Many have gone on to perform professionally,” said Ms. Sewall. She will also continue registering students for the next few months.

“I ask my students to not be frightened, not be shy. We’re there to teach them and they should enjoy the process,” she said. “It’s never too late to start.”

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