Whoever said that to him must have eaten their words when, in 2003, Salvatore LaRussa Dance Theatre (SLDT) was born. And just last year, he opened a dance academy at 66-85 73rd Place in Middle Village, not too far from where he grew up in nearby Ridgewood.
At the academy, 5- to 13-year-old dancers receive instruction in ballet, modern dance, and musical theater in a particular style.
"Classes that we’d want to and do take, we’re bringing to the children," said LaRussa. “This is the real deal. These kids will not be told they don’t have technique.”
Rather than focusing on performances and recitals, SLDT Academy students incorporate their learning by attending live dance performances. Students and their families are given tickets to all of SLDT’s performances when they go on tours around the city.
"It’s important not just to study dance, but to see professionals perform and be able to critique them," said LaRussa.
He acknowledged that sometimes kids and their parents don’t make it out to Manhattan.
"I think it's difficult for them to leave the neighborhood,” he said, “so we're bringing dance to them in hopes that they will love it and want to see more theater and live dance."
With years of dance experience under his belt, LaRussa has built up the connections to bring resources from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island City, and other art centers to Middle Village.
SLDT has two upcoming Free Sunday Arts Performances featuring four prestigious modern dance companies. On May 30 at 2 p.m., Circle of Dance and DiMauro Dance will take the spotlight. On June 6 at 2 p.m., Dina Denis Dance and KerPlunk Dance will captivate audiences.
More than anything, LaRussa hopes that people of all ages will be inspired by modern dance, which he described as “American history dance” because the form is distinctly American.
“Modern dance is not on the radar yet,” he said. “I just want people to see it and the creativity and beauty behind it.”
He is confident that once people experience modern dance, they will crave more because people by nature want to engage in music, art and dance.
“It’s crucial for your soul to be exposed to the arts,” he said. “It’s the human spirit to move and to dance.”
LaRussa noted that there is not too much of an art scene in Queens outside of Long Island City and Astoria, but he hopes to change that soon, starting with his own neighborhood. He pointed out that Middle Village is fittingly named for its central location between Maspeth, Glendale, Ridgewood and Forest Hills.
By bringing artists to the area through hosting festivals, planning events and lending its rehearsal space, he hopes to broaden the appeal of the neighborhood.
“We’re hoping to bring in art, and maybe eventually some restaurants, cafes, stores and a younger generation of residents,” said LaRussa.
It’s an ambitious goal, but it will certainly be a long and slow process. It doesn’t hurt, though, that SLDT is being featured as a “stop” on the Queens Council on the Art’s 2010 Queens Art Express. The annual series of events normally features only cultural institutions and celebrations along the 7 train line, but this year it’s making a detour on the M line, to the Middle Village-Metropolitan Av Station.
On June 10 and June 11 at 7 p.m., June 12 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and June 13 at 2 p.m., SLDT dancers and guest artists will present a joint dance performance installation that is free and open to the public. Meet current resident artist Monica Iancu, whose installation is described as an abstract underworld of the ocean world. LaRussa promises a powerful show that will blow your mind.
“It’s really important for people to be exposed to different things,” said LaRussa. “If it exists, we can and we will bring it here.”