There's a special place in Jersey City where children and adults can learn how to dance. They can try hip-hop, salsa, tango, ballroom, mambo, belly, tap, waltz, ballet, modern, interpretive, and swing.
For more than a quarter of a century, the Kennedy Dancers, a non-profit organization, has been the leading source for Hudsonites to study the basics of dance. The school provides dance training to the community at its headquarters conveniently located on Central Avenue in the Heights section of the city. Starting this month, the school will accept registrations for their winter season in classes including: beginner ballet for adults, belly dancing, beginner tap for adults, salsa aerobics, tai chi, yoga, ballroom dancing, and club salsa.
"Dance is a sport and an art form. It expands the individual's horizons and it reinforces endurance and flexibility," said Kennedy Dancers artistic director Diane Dragone. "Dancing is very natural, but adults are trained to believe that it is not proper to do it."
The people who register for classes are many times couples who want to overcome the fears of dancing in front of their family and friends during their wedding. Children enroll in the more than two dozen dance programs to be at a safe after-school program that enhances their creativity. More than 250 kids and teenagers are currently enrolled in the school for recreational purposes and professional training, Dragone said.
The repertory center on Central Avenue is a recently renovated large building with private studios for voice, dance and music lessons, a kitchen for children to keep their snacks, a garden, a performance studio, and classrooms for yoga and tai chi. Classes are offered six days a week and during the summer months. Prices are kept at a reasonable level, said Dragone.
"Each of our classes is different, but all dance speaks the same language," she said. "Our students feel at home in our school."
Besides dance lessons, Kennedy Dancers staffers offer massage therapy to relieve the aches and pains of a long workout in the studio. The sessions, recommended by Dragone, are normally no more than $50.
"Our certified massage therapist works with people to help them achieve better health," she said.
The success of the Kennedy Dancers can be attributed to the hard work and dedication by Dragone and her professional staff. A certified dance instructor in New Jersey, Dragone taught for more than a decade at Hudson County School of Technology. She is also an executive producer of the award-winning Dance Vista cable television program in the county, now in its ninth season. Her staff includes Yurie Yoshida, rehearsal director for Kennedy Dancers Inner City Youth Junior Company; David Moreno, rehearsal director and performer for the Kennedy Dancers Professional Company; Sara Herrera, dance instructor for Kennedy Dancers special projects; Annamarie Ferrando, Kennedy Dancers' ballroom and Latin instructor; and Melody Castagna-Farfan, a Kennedy Dancers youth ballet and tap instructor.
"We have professional dancers teach at our facilities," Dragone said. "Students learn from dancers who are working artists."
The large studio at the school consists of a wood covered dance floor with vinyl. The floor is designed for all types of dance, exercise and gymnastics. According to Dragone, each dance form requires its own particular shoes, which students must purchase. The rules in the classroom include punctuality, no food or drinks inside the dance studio, no street shoes, and wearing proper uniforms.
"The classrooms here are very diverse. We are a dance school, and a cultural center," Dragone said.
The Kennedy Dancers teach the community how to dance well, and they also have a professional company that travels throughout the region for performances and shows. They have showcased their professional talents down the Jersey Shore, and at local theaters and performing arts centers.
Their 2002-03 schedule includes a performance April 25-26 at Washington Square United Methodist Church in New York City; a show May 1-3 at Victory Hall theater in Jersey City; and the Choreographer's Café at the Kennedy Dancers repertory center on April 19.
"Our company has traveled throughout the state to perform at popular venues," Dragone said. "The performances are always well received by the public."
The company also hosts public events like the Dance Social Parties on Jan. 10 and March 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Dancers' repertory center, and the Valentine's Dance-a-Thon fundraiser on Feb. 16 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The Dance-a-Thon is a positive way for the company to acquire funding for their programs. Students seek out pledges from the public and dance accordingly.
"At the event, the kids usually dance for four and five hours," Dragone said. "It's all done for a worthwhile cause."
The next Kennedy Dancers activity open to the public will be a dance social party on Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m. The event, only $7, will include a class for an hour, free refreshments and a safe place to meet people while helping a non-profit cause.
Funding for the school is provided by enrollment fees, outside contributions, fundraisers, city and state grants, performances and donations. The majority of the Kennedy Dancers' eight-week class sessions are $95. Also, there is financial assistance and scholarships for low-income students who qualify for the school's Inner City Youth Junior Dance Company. Currently approximately 40 students are part of the Junior Dance Company.
The Kennedy Dancers' repertory center is located at 79 Central Ave. in Jersey City. It is open six days a week. For more information on the Jan. 10 social party or other activities, call (201) 659-2190 or visit www.kennedydancers.org. q