At Dance Complex open house, newcomers and veterans explore new moves
"Boom, boom, boom, snap. Elbows here, up, down." No fancy dance terminology as hip-hop instructor Carl Alleyne calls out instructions, demonstrating a movement sequence. Within minutes, he has nearly 60 people of all shapes, ages, ethnicities, and abilities bumping, dipping, stomping, and sliding across the studio floor as part of a free 20-minute class.
Welcome to the Dance Complex's semiannual open house, four hours of free miniclasses that offer a taste of the different dance styles taught at the Central Square institution. From the rolling hips of African dance to the curling arms and fingers of flamenco and the elegant balances of ballet, the event offers a veritable travelogue of movement styles. And while the classes are fun to watch, it is more of a blast to kick off your shoes and join in, participants said.
"It gives people an idea of how many different ways there are to move and to sample different styles, no risk, no embarrassment, no cost," says Rozann Kraus, the Dance Complex's founder and president. "The whole idea is that it's accessible. At whatever level you can participate, it's a valid and rewarding experience."
Last Sunday's open house was packed, and participants ranged from children to seniors, and from novices to experienced dancers trying out unfamiliar forms.
"It's an icebreaker," Kraus says, "like for people who are very comfortable dancing one style and couldn't imagine trying something else, except in this format." Alluding to tightly coiffed ballet dancers, she says, "It's fun to see the more established bun heads take their pins out and try African dance."
Some participants walked in off the street, while others had planned a trip to the event. Samantha Michelmore, 32, came from the South End to take in a full afternoon of classes.
"I haven't danced in a long time, and I want to get back into it," she said. "This is great. I can take a lot of different kinds of classes and see what I'm most interested in."
Tenzin Yang-Chen, 14, who moved to the area from Tibet just three weeks before, had never studied dance before trying Alleyne's hip-hop class.
"It was really fun," she said. "I'm going to try to take a class here."
Her father, Penpa Tsering, was on the dance floor as well. "I'm a musician," he said. "This is a different way to experience rhythms."
Founded in 1991, the volunteer-run, artist-based Dance Complex has helped anchor Central Square as a regional hub of dance activity. Housed in the historic Odd Fellows Hall on Massachusetts Avenue, the nonprofit complex is open seven days a week, and its six studios host drop-in classes, workshops, rehearsals, and performances by more than 60 teachers and companies representing nearly two dozen countries.
"This is the only marketing we do, and it gives just a smattering of the classes we have," Kraus says of the two open houses each year. "It's a wonderful way to connect with the community and for people who teach here to get to know each other and try each other's classes. It gives you a deeper respect when you try to do each other's style of dance."
By midafternoon, the vast majority of participants in the early hip-hop, modern dance, and flamenco classes were still on their feet, as Ife Bolden's West African dance class rocked the building. Three drummers cranked out a beat that made it hard to stand still, and participants sweated through deeply grounded steps, bodies bent, arms pumping. Everyone exploded into applause at the end of the sequence, some falling to the floor in exhaustion with grins on their faces.