We talked to: Ascendance Inner World Arts

We so enjoyed our recent conversation with Laurel Anne Boyd (Director), Kathryn Carpenter (Studio Operations & Children’s Programming Coordinator), and Noel St. Jean Chevalier (Assistant Director & Lead Instructor) of Ascendance Inner World Arts in Florence. Their passion for their work is evident, and their studio is  a welcoming and vibrant space for kids and adults alike.

Tell us about Ascendance--what made you want to open a dance and performance studio? And why in Florence?

After working at various other jobs, including Northfield Mount Hermon and Williston, Laurel felt it was time for her to create her own school and unique space built upon a non-competitive dance model that would also encourage self-exploration and other cultural experiences. Her husband Dylan, who teaches at Northampton High, and his family asked what she would need to get her vision off the ground. With their support and her passion, Laurel began searching for the right spot. After looking at only a couple of spaces, she found what was once a Rite-Aid pharmacy for sale on Pine Street in Florence and felt she could immediately envision how she would renovate and set up the space. It took about a year to build out the space, but now represents the type of place Laurel wanted to create--a warm, welcoming, safe space where kids and adults alike can learn, grow, and form long-lasting friendships.

We wanted a space where kids would receive a full dance education, but also be able to grow as kind, supportive, empathetic humans.  They can feel free to be self-reflective and be their authentic selves in a nurturing environment. By incorporating dance, educational events, movie nights, and arts & crafts, we’re offering a full creative experience in which kids (and adults) can thrive and develop without the fear of being judged or critiqued. They can view this as a safe space in which they can always find an adult to listen and support them.  

And our team is fully committed to our mission and values: community, collaboration, and connection through dance, arts & culture.

What do you love/appreciate most about the business community in Florence?

We are in awe of the amount of support and generosity we have received since we opened. People in this community are truly happy to contribute what they can to help each other grow and thrive. There is a real sense of collaboration between businesses, without any of the competition that you might see elsewhere. We love the “cross-pollination” that goes on here, as it allows us to connect more and more to the business community and to the community at large. Some of our collaborative events have been with A2Z, ecologist Stephen Taranto, the Hitchcock Center for a Summer Safari, Art Always, the Prindle School, and many other great local businesses and educators. We also partner with the Survival Center for can drives, and have worked with The Hub for nutritional workshops for our dancers.

We also just love and appreciate our amazing staff so much. Their commitment, enthusiasm, and passion about our work here is truly inspirational, and is a huge part of what makes this studio such an incredible place to learn, dance, explore, and work.

What do you love/appreciate most about Florence/Northampton in general?

Again, the sense of collaboration, support, and compassion that folks offer and convey here. When you own a business, you can often feel like a lone wolf, but we have realized that we are all kindred spirits in this area--we are all striving for the same things and truly want to help each other succeed and help our community evolve and thrive. We love the overlap of values, goals, and events, and the real magic that comes from brainstorming with other folks in the area when it comes to creating exciting, spontaneous events (such as the flash mob we had last year in downtown Northampton!) and memorable workshops. We love that this area feels like a tiny arts, culture, and educational metropolis, especially with the five colleges in the area and wonderful museums, art studios, and music events.

What positive things do you see happening in Florence/Northampton?

There seems to be a real buzz happening in Florence. With so many women-owned businesses, there’s also a real sense of the power of the feminine happening, and a sense of growth, change, and energy. There’s a sense that we are all working toward the same goals, and are happy to connect, collaborate, and offer support to one another.

Are there any upcoming events you are excited about, either in Florence/Northampton in general or at the store?

Parents’ Night Out on November 15th--we’ll have pizza, crafts, and a movie! We will also  be collaborating with local improv performer, Heidi Hass, in the near future, and are very excited to offer her talents to our students. Our First Night event will involve a Rhythm Stomp performance--fused with contemporary movement-- involving a percussive group and creating sounds and rhythms in a variety of ways. We will offer a skill-building event in the spring as well as camp sessions throughout the year. And our major performance will be in June at Smith College--it is always a true celebration of everything the dancers have learned throughout the year. The setting and stage showcase the enthusiasm, passion, and skills of the dancers as well as the parents and staff who have supported their efforts throughout the year. We couldn’t ask for a more special venue to hold such a wonderful event.

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