We talked to: The School for Contemporary Dance and Thought

Hello, Jen! Could you tell us a bit about yourself, the School for Contemporary Dance and Thought, and why you chose downtown Northampton as a location?

Hi! I am the founding artistic director of the school, which officially began in 2014, and became a nonprofit in 2019. I have actually been in the area since 2000 after living and working in New York City and in various European cities when I was dancing professionally. As I started to transition in my professional life, I felt like this would be the ideal place to relocate to, given that there’s a strong improvisation and contact improvisation community, as well as somatic-based schools of study here. I knew I would have less financial pressure and could start to explore the next phase of my career, while also starting a family.

I honestly don’t think I would be able to run SCDT in a bigger city. There’s something about this location that has allowed us to create this type of school. We have more space and a bit more availability to do the process-based work.  My kids are also really happy here, and my kiddo Edy participates in the Hatchery, which is the experimental movement-based performance company for young artists at SCDT.

What are some challenges/things you’ve learned over the past few years? What are some positives?

When the pandemic began, we only stopped for a week before we transitioned to online classes. We realized that we’d be able to keep things going, and we all truly became lifelines for each other. That time reaffirmed just how important engaging in the arts is, especially for teens, both physically and mentally. And during such a challenging and unpredictable time, it felt that much more meaningful and important to keep that creative process and interaction going.

Hatchery met three times per week and SCDT was suddenly able to offer classes to people in other countries, such as India and England. In fact, at times we had four continents online together in these classes. I even started a ballet class online and had moms and kids participating in them together. And I love that many of the people who started out online are now coming to in-person classes.

We are still learning so much and have so much work to do regarding the pandemic experience. These kids have a lot of trauma, and there’s still so much to do to sort through it, which is why the Hatchery is so important. It gives them a safe place to share, be vulnerable, be creative, and ultimately, feel empowered. Our space is inclusive and welcoming—anyone who wants to dance, move, or make things, no matter what their level of ability, is welcome. We have a big scholarship program so that our classes can reach a wide and diverse range of people. Our kids range in age from 13 to 18, and there’s a real sense of community and friendship. The older kids take care of the younger kids, and everyone encourages each other. That’s true for our adult classes as well. We want everyone to feel supported and welcome, no matter what their background or level of dance and movement experience!

What are some exciting things coming up for the school?

Our big EXCHANGE the Teen Performance Festival is happening on May 25th and 26th at the Academy of Music, so we’re very excited about that.

Then our Community Day will be on Friday, June 16th, at our home on Hawley Street. All of the classes will be showing their work at 5 PM, and our special guest Vanessa Anspaugh will be showing her work from 6:30 to 8 PM. Saturday the 17th will be a free day of classes! scdtnoho.com

What’s your favorite current food and/or beverage?

Anything coconut–namely, coconut curry!

As a business owner, what do you do to unwind/relax/rejuvenate?

I love to keep my own physical practice up with dancing and yoga, and I really enjoy hiking and being in nature, especially the garden! I also love to watch a variety of shows on Netflix when I’m relaxing at home.

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