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Sue Bush
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BDT Plans Move to Notre Dame Space

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Berkshire Dance Theatre dancers performed during the town's "Tea Party" held in August on the Town Hall lawn.
Adams – It’s not quite on par with a miracle, but a proposed Berkshire Dance Theatre dance studio move from Commercial Street to the former Notre Dame School building may be an answer to a prayer, according to the theater’s Executive Director Eileen Clark.

Opportunity for Opportunities

“This move would give us a great opportunity to expand our dance program,” Clark said during a Sept. 13 morning interview. “We have found the teachers, we have found the interest, and we have found the space.”

The move requires that the Zoning Board of Appeals approve a special permit allowing the school to offer dance and fitness classes, which are described as “other educational use” [meaning other than academics] in an area zoned as a residential-4 district. A special permit public hearing has been scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sept. 27 at Town Hall.

The building has not served as a school for many years, and weekly Bingo games held at the site have been stopped. Youth religious instruction classes are held at the site on a weekly basis.

The BDT has not renewed it’s lease for its’ current studio at 34 Commerical St.. The lease expires on Sept. 30, and Clark said that if a permit were approved on Sept. 27, the BDT would be able to close one studio and open the new space by Oct. 1.

BDT Executive Director Eileen Clark
“We will be able to do it,” she said.

A two-year use and occupancy agreement with the Catholic Diocese of Springfield has been negotiated but has not yet been signed, pending the outcome of the public hearing.

Should the permit be approved, the school will shift from offering two dance classes at one time to providing instruction for three simultaneous classes, Clark said. Fitness classes will also benefit from the added space.

“We will be able to do more in the time that we have,” she said.

The school’s hours of operation would not change, Clark said.

Long Search for New Space

The dance school has been searching for a larger space for just over a year, Clark said. Total enrollment, including fitness classes and the Williamstown-based Pine Cobble School and Bennington, Vt. satellite dance schools, is about 220 students, Clark said. Dance students from the Northern Berkshires, southern Vermont, and parts of New York state are enrolled at the BDT. As the dancers achieve advanced dance levels, they travel to the main, town-based school for their instruction.

The site is owned by the Catholic Diocese and church officials have expressed support of the school because of its’ youth focus, Clark said.

“They would be happy to have us there,” she said.

BDT officials have a strong desire to keep the school in Adams, Clark said. Many of students are Adams residents, and in many cases, the dancers are able to leave school or home and walk to their classes. The school’s roots are in the town as well.

For a variety of reasons, previously examined sites proved inappropriate for the school and its’ needs, Clark said. Space has been an issue with other sites, as has parking. The former Notre Dame school has “wonderful parking,” and “easy pick-up and drop-off access,” Clark said.

Traffic customarily enters the area, which hosts two churches as well as the school building, through a Maple Street access and exits onto Columbia Street.

About the BDT

All BDT dancers are included as participants in the school’s yearly performance held at the Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire. BDT dancers also perform at community events, including the town’s “Tea Party,” held during Susan B. Anthony Days on the Town Hall lawn.

And as the school grows and offers new programs, a new site must be able to accommodate new students and fitness program participants.

Currently, the dance instruction includes beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance, as well as tumbling and acrobatics. Fitness programs launched earlier this year include Pilates, Nia, body conditioning and strength training classes.

New students are welcome, and enrollment in a traditional dance discipline begins at age three. The school offers a “Mommy and Me” program open to children aged two-and-a half and the “significant adult” in their lives,” said Clark.

“This is such a wonderful way to get a feel for dance and adds another dimension to the bonding process,” she said.

Numerous scholarships are awarded annually to BDT students, including the Girgenti Family Scholarship, the Wendy Lincoln Award, the Berkshire Dance Theatre Leadership Award, and the Ester Mirallegro Award.

A BDT dancer performed a solo during the town's "Tea Party."

New Program Plans

Plans include adding a “dance fusion” class for those aged 13 and up, and a yoga class to complement the existing fitness programs.

The dance fusion class targets young people who may want some dance instruction but may not have the time necessary to study one particular dance discipline. The program will offer a mix of disciplines including ballet, tap, modern dance and jazz, and the students will have a voice in which disciplines are offered. The program is designed as a “dance sampler,” which will allow those interested in dance but unsure about where their interest lies to experience each discipline before committing to one, Clark said. Students may opt to remain enrolled in the fusion program only, she said.

The school would also like to offer a “dance partnering” program to dancers at the advanced ballet, or en pointe, level, Clark said. Males are needed for the program, and advanced dance skills are not required.

Clark explained that interested boys or men would partner with the ballerinas and enhance performances through lifting the dancers, or executing fairly uncomplicated moves that accentuate the ballerinas’ movements.

“The males could be brothers, dads, uncles, or grandfathers,” Clark said.

BDT officials have approached Chuck Paquette of Williamstown, who has an extensive background in dance, about becoming a dance partnering instructor, Clark said.

Judith Babcock, who is a certified fitness class instructor currently teaching fitness programs, is also a certified dance instructor and will be teaching dance classes, Clark said.

Olivia Hakes is also certified in both areas and is expanding her fitness and teaching duties.

"Utmost Desire"

Should the relocation proposal fail to generate approval, the BDT would have little choice but to seek a home outside of town, Clark said, and emphasized that moving away from town is not what school officials want to do.

“One option might be to separate the school, to have some classes in one space and some in another,” Clark said. “But that would create a lot of challenges for all of us, the teachers, the students, and their families. Expenses would go up. It just doesn’t seem feasible.”

“I believe that we would have to look at sites out of town,” she said. “We would really hate to have to do either of these things. So many of our students are from Adams. We have considered every [relocation] possibility that was remotely doable. That’s why when this came along, we were ecstatic. I wouldn’t call it a miracle, exactly, but we took a look at this and it fit our needs so well, and it fit their needs.”

Response to the fitness classes and growing interest in dance curriculums indicates that the school has a solid place in the community and BDT officials are proud to be part of the town, Clark said.

“We love being part of Adams,” she said. “It is our utmost desire to remain in the town.”

Additional information about the Berkshire Dance Theater is available by calling 413-743-4645.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or by calling 802-823-9367.

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