Among the 24 dances featured in the biannual show will be jazz, ballet, hip hop, broadway and lyrical pieces. Founder & Executive Director of DanceWorks NYC, Lisa Mara, explained the importance of non-professional dancers still being able to have a creative outlet. Many of the dancers are adults who danced throughout their entire childhoods but chose another career path. DanceWorks is a place that allows them to practice what they love to do on their own time.
“Once you’re in the real world, there aren’t many programs that are geared towards working with a career-type schedule,” Mara said. “It’s really spectacular to now see the talents that have come out of these dancers who have chosen not to pursue a career in dance.”
Mara founded the company after experiencing what so many young dancers go through. After earning a public relations degree from Syracuse University, the Boston native began working 16 hours a day for a high-end entertainment company in Manhattan. She soon realized that there wasn’t much going on in her life besides work. Not even the occasional dance class worked because there wasn’t enough of a community ewstablished. Feeling uninspired, she returned to Boston only to be cut from the Boston Celtics dance team tryouts. It was there that she realized the talent around her that needed to utilized.
Now in its seventh year, the number of dancers in the New York City program have increased from 35 to 116. They come from all walks of life. Some are teachers while others are lawyers. Many work either in advertising, in public relations or are dance teachers in their local community studios. There are dancers who work for Google or are a part of the tech industry. Between the various backgrounds and the age range, from 21 to 35, Mara is confident that each DanceWorks NYC show will be new with a fresh perspective.
“Everyone’s at an age where there is always something going on or things are changing for them,” she said. “What inspires me to keep working hard for DanceWorks is that they have their successful career but if they’re sitting at their desk at Google, their co-worker would have no idea that kid could dance.”
This program really gives people an outlet to keep doing that.”
Community also plays a big part in the company’s core values. Once a dancer registers, auditions and gets placed into a dance, they meet weekly with the same group for 17 weeks. And many dancers are involved with up to four pieces, so community gets built based on exposure to large amounts of people. Additionally, each dancer must know the name of every person involved with the dance company. Making it a necessary rule allows dancers to network and get to know each other better. Mara considers it worthwhile since most dancers reside in or around the city.
Queens has played a major role in the production for a number of reasons. Not only are a decent percentage of dancers from Queens, but rehearsals and the show are both taking place in Astoria. While it may be challenging to book rehearsal times in well-known Manhattan studios, DanceWorks was grateful that Frank Sinatra School of the Arts was able to carve out 24 hours of rehearsal time for 17 weeks. The dancers used two side-by-side studios at the school to rehearse. The performance itself will be opening up to the biggest audience in years.
“We truly have one of the most unique types of programs for dance that’s quite up there with competitions like “So You Think You Could Dance,” so it’s a high quality, fun energy show,” Mara said. “You will not fall asleep, you’ll be out of your seat laughing and clapping.”
The spring show already sold over 900 tickets. The company is hoping to break the 1,000-ticket mark. There will be two performances, at 5:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria on Saturday, May 16.
Photo Credit: Matthew Ziegler Photography