Urbanity Dance Builds Community Through Movement

Urbanity Dance Company practices for its November 21 show with A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra.
Urbanity Dance Company practices for its November 21 show with A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra. –Katie Levingston for Boston.com

Just a few weeks ago, Urbanity Dance’s administrative staff was settling into its new digs in the South End.

“Did we bring the stapler?’’

“We made coffee today!’’

Urbanity has been dancing in the Hub since it was founded in 2008. It’s come a long way since its debut. While it once only had six dancers, today the company gets to dance with 400 people a week and over 10,000 people annually. And it needed a bigger house for its expanding family.

The contemporary dance company officially moved out of its one-room studio on Nov. 17 to a larger space at 1180 Washington St. Kickstarter partially funded the move (Urbanity exceeded its $12,000 goal). The founders hope the new digs will make its community programming within the city even stronger.

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“I’m equally proud of what we do off stage in the community as what we do on stage and I think all of the work that we do, no matter, is access for all, art for all: everyone deserves that opportunity,’’ said founder Betsi Graves.

Betsi Graves, Founder and Director of Urbanity Dance. —Katie Levingston/Boston.com

While they also offer regular adult and youth dance classes, company dancers teach classes for children at Boston Public Schools through its Urban and World Dance program. Urbanity also holds free weekly classes for those afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease and works with incarcerated youth. The company believes that anyone, regardless of health or physical capacity, can learn from dance. With the new, larger space, Urbanity will be able to accommodate even more of the community.

“We think the world of dance and movement and we think that it does inspire, engage, and empower, whether it is through just being an audience member or participating in a workshop or using it as a new lens to see the world and gain perspective around them,’’ said Jerusha Aman, Director of Community Programming.

The location is also more accessible, from the wide sidewalks outside the studio to the handicap bathrooms inside. The dance company is now situated at the heart of a main, bustling throughway of the South End. Maneuvering, in general, will be much easier, especially for Parkinson’s dance students.

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Last February, Urbanity offered its Dance with Parkinson’s program on a weekly basis. It was modeled after David Leventhal’s New York City Dance for Parkinson’s. Leventhal and his team trained Graves on how to provide Parkinson’s patients an outlet through dance.

“We never call it therapy,’’ Aman said. “There’s all of this motion and mobility and balance and coordination—all of these things that naturally come through in a dance class you can actually implement that and target it toward those who have Parkinson’s.’’

Boston is a prime location to provide a support system for those with Parkinson’s, Aman said, since the studio is so close to some of the world’s best hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Dancer Bobbie Casey-Cedrone was diagnosed with Parkinson’s two and a half years ago. Since participating in Dance with Parkinson’s, she says she feels more mobile and capable.

“When my body seemed to give out on me with the Parkinson’s disease on top of my arthritis and the couple of operations I’ve had… when I am at Urbanity it makes me feel fantastic,’’ said Casey-Cedrone. “It makes me feel like I can get going and that I can do the best I can and help others to find a way of doing the best that they can, too.’’

Movement Mends, another community program at Urbanity, also attempts to put people’s best selves forward. The program focuses on incarcerated youth at local juvenile detention schools.

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“A lot these kids are very helpless, hopeless, desperate, they have this stigma put on them saying that you don’t really have much value and you don’t really have much to give to society,’’ said Aman.

Aman teaches these classes herself, and encourages her students to draw on their own lives and interests for inspiration. She has her students talk about their childhoods and create movements to describe their memories. In the class, Aman ties sports and movement together as well, and by the end of class, the once detached, aloof young males cannot wait for her to return.

Urbanity Dance Company practices in its new space at 1180 Washington St. in the South End. —Katie Levingston for Boston.com

The studio on Washington Street has two rooms: an office for staff and parents to work and hang out, and a dance studio. During Boston.com’s visit, staff sat on couches in the new office, typing on laptops in front of cardboard posters pinned with budget supply goals. Only a door separates the company’s administrative side from the dancing side, so it’s easy to overhear the movement of dancing feet. Staff walks around in knit socks instead of shoes to keep their fresh dance floor from getting scuffed. If all goes well, though, the future at Urbanity will include a well worn floor, bearing the tracks of dancers of all ages.

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