Volume 21, Number 42 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Feb. 29 - March 6, 2009

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Millennium High School students rehearsing a dance piece based on the fall of the Berlin Wall. The L.M.D.C.-funded program run by Battery Dance Company has no money to continue next year.

Student dancers hope program fares better than Berlin Wall

By Candida L. Figueroa

During Regents week in January at Millennium High School, some students were studying, some were taking a test and trying to beat the clock and some were dancing. The Dancing to Connect program has turned students into choreographers, where they will premiere their piece at a live concert series in March.

Six dancers from the Battery Dance Company had worked in pairs to introduce three groups of Millennium students to modern dance and they will perform next week at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Amanda Colon, 16, who wants to be a dance therapist, would rather listen to instructions from her fellow classmates. “I prefer it this way because it gives you more freedom to decide, and makes it more interesting to look at,” Colon said Tuesday.

Traveling internationally to over 30 countries, the Battery Dance Company started Dancing to Connect in Germany, where it was a popular success among students and parents. This is the last year of the three-year Downtown program, which was funded with a $250,000 grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

At the last rehearsal before the show this week, the mood changed when the students heard the program may be ending. “For it to be leaving, like goodbye, it would be sad,” said Yadira Martinez, 15, who started dancing in the program last year.

“This has increased my confidence in front of people, like in public speaking,” said Maxwell Titsworth,14, who only began a few months ago. “I had recently had a project due and it was much easier for me to talk because of this experience.”

Jonathan Hollander, the company’s director, said he is looking for ways to continue the program next year. “This is not about dancing,” he said. “It’s about real life and it’s about attitude. They embrace it and they know they’re not too old to find a new self within themselves.”

Robin Cantrell, a company dancer, said the students’ nervousness faded with each practice. “It takes them a while to get into it but once they see they’re part of a larger story, they finally get it,” she said. “They’re the best group we’ve ever worked with.”

Millennium students had to commit to a week of practice from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. during what would have been vacation time.

The Downtown students were given the fall of the Berlin Wall as the theme of the dance. Their interpretation of the historical event on its 20th anniversary year involves abstract movement alongside literal motion. At this week’s rehearsal, two students stretched out holding hands and another crawled through the middle, simulating a blockade. As a group, they acted out a struggle to lift up both hands carrying heavy weights. They created their own wall — standing in a line and freezing into different poses to mean words like “sad” or “scared.” They named the piece “Shadowed Voices.”

“There were no counts and I’m not used to that,” said Stephanie Dobosz, 15 who has been dancing since she was 3, mostly tap and jazz. “We use everyday movements to make a dance. Because of this, modern dance is a larger part of me.”

During a break, students seemed at ease, talking to friends arm-in-arm or doing random moves they wished were part of the performance as their laughter echoed in the small gymnasium space. The conversations stopped abruptly when Carmen Nicole, their co-choreographer and Battery dancer, gave a few claps for attention. “We build their trust and give them positive reinforcement and I see that I’m pulling more and more out of them,” Nicole said.

Andre Karma, 16, said he was turned off at first because it was not hip-hop dancing, but he has learned some things he hopes to use in a senior production next year. “This dance was not really my cup of tea,” he said. “When I first came here the movements were slow and abstract. But I picked up a lot of tips, thanks to Carmen, about what I’m going to do next year.”

The Millennium students’ “Shadowed Voices” performance will be on Thurs., Mar. 5 at 1 p.m. at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Call (212) 219-3910 for more information.





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