Adam In Chatham Team Reaches Out Through Dance

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Arts

Dance is beautiful and expressive, intimate and dynamic. The ultimate blend of the artistic and the athletic, dance is also a mixture of personal expression and connection with others. In this time of social distancing, while many of our favorite classes and performances have been paused until further notice, necessity has truly become the mother of invention as new ways to continue learning, sharing and connecting have been created using various online platforms.

Adam Spencer of Adam in Chatham and Studio 878, along with his enthusiastic team of teachers, has not only kept the learning going, but has also created an opportunity to share the wealth of knowledge and love of dance in even more ways than seemed possible before the limitations of COVID-19 changed everything.

“In a crisis we are forced to collaborate,” Spencer said, “and that is when innovation takes place.”

Faced with the challenges of social distancing, Spencer, along with teachers Angel Fox, Samantha Gendreau and Brandon Simmons, quickly created a schedule of classes via Facebook Live, which include something for everyone. Even those who have never attended a dance class may find themselves tempted by the engaging tone and inclusiveness of the classes. Now is the perfect time to try something new without any fear of feeling shy in front of others, since you can try some new moves in the comfort of your own living room, or, in the case of Spencer’s “Kitchango” class, in your kitchen.

But as time goes by and the threat of contagion diminishes, Spencer has given a lot of thought to what reopening the studio and returning to in-person dance classes will look like. While contemplating the new Barnstable County Reopening Task Force’s possible recommendations and guidelines for reopening small businesses, he was struck by the idea that the needs and challenges of dance teachers and studios are different from the needs of other arts organizations. With this realization, he reached out to dance teachers from Bourne to Provincetown to create an alliance to help identify and address their unique needs when reopening becomes possible.

“Dance students and teachers work together in a unique field,” Spencer said. “It is like a gym, and it is also the arts. We straddle both arenas. Dance studios are not like museums, galleries, theaters. Dancers are teaching technique with our bodies. Teachers and studios are both the places and the tools. It’s a little different to other arts organizations. I worried that individual teachers by themselves might find their needs may not be represented.”

Spencer’s alliance of dance teachers and studios is in the early stages of planning and doesn’t yet have a name. He plans to connect with the Cape Cod dance community via Zoom meetings and help share ideas, inform one another and ensure that their unique needs will be addressed.

“I contacted every dance studio and teacher I could find, from ballroom to ballet, Irish dance and modern, from Bourne to Ptown, and the response has been amazing,” Spencer said. “A collective voice is important. The number of people who take classes in dance across Cape Cod, including during the summers, may surpass any other art on Cape Cod, and yet the unique needs and challenges of dance studios will be underrepresented in the plans to reopen without an alliance. Music and arts are wonderful and fantastic, but still we are in the background and shouldn’t be.”

The teaching schedule includes Tango and Ballet in the Kitchen (Kitchango) on Mondays, Community Dance Class on Tuesdays, Jazz or Ballroom on Wednesdays, Pure Jazz on Thursdays and a Salsa Shine Break on Saturday, with ballet classes throughout the week and on Saturday morning. Though it sounds like a full calendar, Spencer still has more to offer in the form of lectures on dance and dance-adjacent topics such as anatomy and physiology, dance history, social studies and dance, dance appreciation, dance film analysis and more. At the end there is time for comments and questions. Spencer said he relishes the opportunity to research and revisit subjects he studied while working toward his degree. He envisions keeping an avenue of supplemental learning available to students after social distancing protocols are scaled back.

“In the studio the teaching is very classical, but during this situation the lectures give an opportunity to deliver information on additional subjects, and people are loving it,” Spencer said. “A student recently said she feels like she is attending dance university. I love being able to share that experience with my students.”

Teacher Brandon Simmons found that although adapting to an online teaching format was a challenge, the unexpected insights that have come through the experience have been well worth the effort.

“It has been difficult to get used to a new way of teaching and expressing your art,” Simmons said. “It’s very different talking to your computer screen than to a studio of students. You don’t get exchange of energy and feelings you would if you were in the same room.

“I have been thrilled to see so many people have turned to the arts during this time.  It just shows how important and universal art is.  I hope that we remember that when we reach the other side of this pandemic.”

Teacher Angel Fox agrees, and adds that the experience has helped her to become an even better teacher. In a way, Fox said, online teaching can seem even more personal than a traditional dance class.

“I am a very hands-on teacher, and now that everything is online, I have been forced to get more creative and really start to work on my teaching using visuals and my words,” Fox said. “It took me about a week to get used to the format, and now I feel like I've really hit my stride. It seems more personal, welcoming people into my home and teaching from my kitchen. People have been so excited and thankful for the online classes, and honestly, so have I. It's wonderful to be able to keep doing what I love through all of this craziness!”

Spencer sees the newly forming alliance as another positive to come out of this challenging time.

“I think the biggest positive that will come out of this post-COVID-19 will be people's appreciation for what they have,” Spencer said. “Every moment spent in the dance studio having physical contact with fellow dancers will be that much more special. This experience has proven to me what I already knew but often forgot, which is how resilient the arts, and our dance community, is. I think it has proven that even in the most stressful of times, the arts are there for us, and can be a unifying thing to share.”

Try a Facebook Live dance class with Adam, Brandon, Angel and Samantha at www.facebook.com/adaminchatham.