I recently stopped by Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) and had the pleasure of meeting with Alice Chapman, Hillary Jackson, and Amber Henrie. Needless to say, I was very impressed by the studio, dancers, staff, and programs. From my conversation with these women, I came away with a very positive feeling about DNA and their culture.
For those of you that don’t know, Lynn Simonson, Laurie Devito, Michael Geiger, and Charles Wright founded DNA back in 1984. DNA was based on the Simonson Technique, which trained “thinking dancers whose strong technique and performance quality was based on intimate knowledge of their own body’s parameters.” The Simonson technique was based on safe training and an organic approach to movement where dancers can be themselves. DNA still abides by this philosophy today.
As I told the DNA women, my knowledge of dance is minimal. Although when I was in Sevilla, I will say that I was a fan of Flamenco from time to time. Having said that, they explained to me that DNA is like the “off-broadway” of dance, which is exactly where they want to be. They went on to say that DNA is very much a “jumping off place for an artist. The choreographers encourage experimentation, process, and improvisation. While DNA focuses on dance, it’s not JUST for dancers. Actors, singers, and musical theater groups all use the facilities. DNA is a community resource and a fully professional space.”
When I walked up the stairs at DNA, I immediately noticed the visual gallery. The Gallery @ DNA provides a second creative outlet for the artist. It allows the artist to develop a character based on their dance, culture, history, or tribe. The Gallery can also get someone “in the mood” as they enter the studio. Much like I saw at Space on White, the visual arts at DNA is an ever-increasing component of the studio.
Unique to the Theater at DNA are its ceilings and columns. Every artist talks about the architecture of the Theater at DNA. The ceiling is lower than most so as a result, the performances are slightly different. You will not see as much flair or acrobatics or two-three minute pieces. The concepts are much more developed.
In terms of DNA’s newest classes, Anne Merrick from the school department says, “DNA would like to offer something for everyone, from professionals to recreational dancers. We have recently added tap, American Dance Machine, Flamenco, Hula Hoop Dance, and GYROKINESIS®. We have offered various workshops in Burlesque and Broadway Jazz.”
DNA also offers a wide variety of programs for its dancers. Many dancers just don’t have enough money for classes so DNA helps them out by offering a Work Study Program. This gives professional and non-professional dancers an opportunity to take classes at a discounted rate. Dancers are able to work in exchange for classes.
DNA also offers an International Student Visa Program. Many of their students receive scholarships from organizations in their home countries or their embassies/consulates in New York. DNA takes Around 60 students each year and most of the students stay for six months or longer! Some of these students are fresh out of college while some are veterans of the field looking to expand their knowledge. These are “highly dedicated and motivated individuals who are in New York to dance their hearts out!” Ryoji Sasamoto is a product of this Student Visa Program. From Japan, Sasamoto is one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2011!
In addition to these programs, DNA offers a FREE Class Day. This program was started last year in honor of DNA’s 25th anniversary. 400 people attended the class in October. The FREE Class Day got many people, mostly non-dancers, interested in dance. In addition, people from the community, such as wellness workers, also came out and contributed their time.
Lastly, DNA offers teacher Certification Programs. They offer certification courses in Steele Pilates, Choreographer Investigation Course (CIC) certification, and the Simonson Method of teacher training.
Obviously, I had to ask Alice, Hillary, and Amber about “Black Swan.” This movie is one of the more talked about movies this year and it deals with ballet so I had to get their input. Below are my BRILLIANT questions:
A) Do you think Black Swan portrayed ballet in an unfair light?
“We find our dancers to be much more supportive and not as cutthroat as what was portrayed in the movie. DNA is probably one of the least judgmental studios. Also, DNA doesn’t just teach ballet, but rather an assortment of dance styles for all ages.”
B) Do you see more interest from new dancers to take ballet class?
“It’s pretty early to tell, but we had a few more people signed up for our ballet class. After Dances with the stars, we saw a 30% increase in dance classes!”
C) What do you hear the dancers saying about the movie?
Alice said, “I went to see it with a group of 7 dancer friends and we loved it!!!! We thought that it was plausible and that the “dance” bits were really well done.”
To all aspiring dancers and teachers looking for a great non-judgmental dance studio, do yourself a favor and check out DNA!