In the heart of New York City, not far from the bright lights of Broadway, in the bustle of downtown Manhattan, Peridance Capezio Center has created its own community. Dancers from all over New York (and the world) come here to take class, make friends, network and, of course, train hard. With over 250 open classes – and an extensive summer program of extra workshops and seminars – there is truly something for everyone.
Dance Informa spoke with Yarden Ronen-van Heerden, development director at Peridance; and Isabel Eisen, international student advisor and programs coordinator, about what Peridance offers its drop-in students, and why, in many ways, it’s not merely a drop-in program after all.
The class list at Peridance is endless. From salsa to contemporary to hip hop, every dance style is covered. “Basically, we have a full schedule of drop-in classes for all levels and for all ages,” describes Ronen-van Heerden. “We have people coming in taking classes at six years old and above, so we try to cater to just about anyone. We have a mission to make dance accessible, teach people and really create a sense of community here. A lot of our students will sit before or after class with faculty, with other peers or with people they have just met in a class, and they will help one another and talk to one another, and I think that’s a big part of the experience here. It’s not just the class; it’s the vibe, the community.”
Peridance is best known for its contemporary dance classes. Indeed, the studio is also lauded for the in-house Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, born out of the success of the contemporary class program. “We are very known for our contemporary,” explains Ronen van-Heerden, “and we have just about any style here; it’s really thriving. But we also put a lot of emphasis on preserving and promoting the modern techniques that have led our faculty and our students to contemporary dance. Whether it’s Limón or Taylor, Graham or Horton, it’s a part of the education, so although it’s a drop-in schedule, we view it as a really serious training schedule for the community. Especially for pre-professional and professional dancers, because we are known to find teachers who imbue different elements of dance and create their own fusions. But we always try to go for originality and things that you might not find elsewhere.”
Eisen agrees that the sheer variety among the faculty is Peridance’s strength. “Every teacher has their own style,” she adds. “It might say contemporary on the door, but when you go in, you know that that teacher is going to go in a certain direction, which goes in a very different direction to another contemporary class.”
It’s clear that Peridance truly believes in mixing your training across different styles to make you a stronger dancer. “It is important that students know, for example with ballet, which is more contained and structured, that you can actually use that for hip hop or something freer,” notes Eisen. “It makes you a better and a more effective and efficient dancer.”
“We see it happening here a lot,” Ronen van-Heerden agrees. “There’s a bridge between the disciplines. We see people who come here for contemporary and then all of a sudden they’re taking a hip hop class, or we see some of our professional dancers taking salsa or hip hop, which is lovely.”
Although commercial classes might not be what Peridance is famous for, Ronen van-Heerden is excited about the boom the studio has experienced in recent years. “The commercial classes are a little bit hidden in the sense that it’s not as in people’s faces as the contemporary stream, but we have a whole schedule of commercial classes divided into two focus areas,” he describes. “One is the fundamentals. We have quite a lot of teachers here who teach the fundamentals of street dance, whether it’s hip hop, house or popping and locking, and then we have more commercial classes, where students can come and basically learn choreography and what’s happening now in the industry. We try to bring the knowledge of both to the faculty. And then, of course, there is ballet. Ballet is something you have to keep cherishing and promoting; it’s such an important class for students, so we keep pushing that in all of our training programs and our open classes, too. We really have one of the best faculty collections for ballet in the city, starting with our director, Igal Perry; Jae Man Joo from Complexions; people who have taught for years and years here in the city like Martha Chapman; and just a mix of different teachers for different levels and different needs. Our ballet classes here are very much geared for contemporary and commercial dancers, not necessarily just ballet dancers.”
Although it seems like a drop-in dancer might go under the radar at a studio of this nature, for many dancers one class becomes two, and two becomes five, and suddenly they find themselves immersed in one of Peridance’s curated training programs. “That’s where our real strength lies,” says Ronen van-Heerden. “We have an independent study program, seminar intensives, programs for both domestic and international students, and they thrive on the open class schedule because students can cater their schedule around what is being offered with our guidance and our mentorship. There’s a natural cohesion between the open schedule and our training programs. There’s much more to the classes than simply dropping in.”
Come summertime, everything is taken up a notch. New York takes on a new, energetic persona, and the dancers come running. “There’s something about a period of time when people are on vacation,” muses Eisen. “You know people might go to a spa or a yoga retreat, so our summer intensives attract a different kind of dance enthusiast. This is also when we offer our adult beginner classes. And it’s very important in New York, because usually a beginner’s class is actually at an advanced intermediate level. There are so many people interested in dance who just really want to get to the roots of what it’s all about, and concentrate on the essentials. That’s what we have during the summer, and it’s very important.”
Ronen van-Heerden is also keen for students to explore the range of extra classes on offer during these warmer months. “We have the sessions, which are week-long workshops with the biggest companies like Complexions, RUBBERBANDance or Hubbard Street Dance Chicago — big names,” he says. “We also have a new summer study option, where people can come for a few months and take classes here continuously. We have subsidised rehearsal space for artists, and of course we have our own intensives here in the summer — the teen intensive, kids summer camps. It’s a very long list. While the colleges and universities around the country are on break, students from across the country come to explore what we have. Our summer culminates with Blueprint, which is our two-week intensive for pre-professionals, ending with a big performance in our theater, and our dance company will have our own session of workshops the week after that. It gives dancers a whole gamut of experiences here, at the highest level. New York is an amazing place to be at this time of year.”
Of course, Peridance is clearly the place to be all year round.
For 2020, all the details of the summer offerings will be available in one place on the Peridance website. For those who wish to learn more about Peridance Capezio Center’s regular open class schedule, click here.
By Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.