Categorized | Arts, Community

A Dance Performance With Something Completely Different — Boys!

Posted on 05 December 2012

The girls of Studio 3 get their hands on a few willing boys to help take their dancing to a new level. Pictured, left to right, are: Julia Russo, Janie Mae Westergard, John Andes, Natalie Palumbo, Claire Belhumeur, Rachael Pepper, Duncan Bennett, Chloe Gavalas, Abi Gianis, Theo Gray, and Isabelle Newton. (A. Hinkle photo).

By Annette Hinkle

It’s something Mikhail Baryshnikov probably learned fairly early in his career — being a male ballet dancer had its perks, among them the fact that it’s a great way to pick up girls (literally).

You’d think that what’s true for world class dancers would be true for teenage boys as well — and theoretically, it is.

The problem however, is high school boys aren’t always eager to test the validity of that theory … after all, there are reputations at stake.

“It’s the tights,” admits Meredith Shumway, who knows all about it.

The Southampton native began ballet lessons at age three and kept with it all the way through college at Ole Miss. These days, she’s back on home turf and teaching dance to the next generation at Studio 3 in Bridgehampton, a dance school founded by her mother, Diane Shumway, back in 2005.

As any dance program out here will quickly reveal — while there are countless aspiring ballerinas, male counterparts are few and far between. But Meredith feels teenage boys are really missing out on something.

“If I were a high school guy with these girls, I’d go to ballet,” says Meredith. “The fact is they get to lift them and are dancing with them. It’s actually very masculine. You have to be strong and confident.”

But on the East End, finding boys to do the “heavy lifting” (so to speak) is practically impossible. That’s a problem for girls who may have higher aspirations in dance because learning to partner is a vital part of advancing in ballet.

“At this age in ballet, at most professional studios they are dancing with the boys,” concedes Diane.

This weekend, when Studio 3 presents “Mixed Nuts” (an unconventional 1950s twist on the  Nutcracker) at Bay Street Theatre, not only will there be girls offering spins, pirouettes, tap routines and jazz numbers, but there will also be something far rarer in such productions — teenage boys.

Theo Gray lifts and dips Rachael Pepper during rehearsals at Studio 3.

“This is our second year doing ‘Mixed  Nuts’ and personally, I wanted more of a true life story instead of just girls dancing,” explains Meredith. “I wanted the feel of a real story with boys and girls.”

Luckily for Meredith and Diane, some of their teenage ballerinas were able to convince a group of boys — mostly from Pierson High School — to step in and help them out.

“It started with a partnering class, then we asked and they decided to do the show,” says Meredith. “It’s really amazing to have guys in the studio.”

“It’s nice to try out partner dance,” admits Pierson sophomore Rachael Pepper who is serious about her ballet. “The guys are learning it and we are too. It’s a lot more mature.”

Pierson sophomore Zach Zimmerman recalls how he and his friends Theo Gray and Duncan Bennett were recruited by classmates Natalie Palumbo and Abi Gianis who also dance at Studio 3.

“I’m good friends with Abi and Natalie,” says Zimmerman. “We go to church together and hang out outside school. They said, ‘Do you want to do this? You have to pick us up.’ We were skeptical, but it’s fun hanging with cool girls.”

Also joining in is Zach’s friend John Andes who attends Mercy High School in Riverhead and Zach explains that the boys’ role is not to leap and spin across the stage, but to truly support the girls so they can shine,

“We’re not doing the moves they’re doing,” qualifies Zimmerman. “We don’t do the jumps and arabesques — that takes years of experience and flexibility that we don’t have. We stay behind them the entire time and hold them.”

“It’s about making the girls look good and us not being seen,” adds Zach.

A chivalrous goal to say the least, and a lot more work than one might think. The boys put in some serious training to get into shape as “support staff.”

“We did weightlifting and 150 to 250 pushups a day,” explains Zach. “We’d start a session with 60 push ups and end with 30 to get muscle mass. Even if the girls are only 100 pounds, it’s hard to hold them up for 10 seconds.”

So now that Zach and his friends are dancers, the question inevitably arises — how have their classmates reacted?

“A lot of people at school say it’s not a thing a guy would do,” says Zach. “But we said we’re helping the girls out so they can do their moves, spins and twirls. They’re also seeing us talking to 10 girls at lunch. After two weeks, no one cared.”

“I think I’m definitely going to stick with it,” he adds.

For his part, Theo Gray loved dancing in elementary school and is a natural at it. When he was 10, he was offered the chance to train for the lead in Billy Elliott when that show was being developed for Broadway. But it would’ve required years of intensive training and a move to New York City, so Theo declined.

“I stopped dancing for five years after that and got into sports. This is the first time I’ve danced since then,” says Theo, who finds partnering much different than the kind of dancing he used to do for fun.

“I’ve never done lifting of girls before,” he says. “People who don’t do this don’t think it’s is hard. They say, “it’s just ballet,’ …  but it is hard and much more challenging than you think it is.”

“We’re starting a new trend,” he adds. “We’re definitely the first boys doing the Nutcracker.”

Diane hopes boys in the studio as well as on stage is a trend that continues.

“Some of the boys are a little hooked now and some have shown up for ballet class,” says Diane. “And the partnering is great for the girls. It’s renewed their enthusiasm.”

Not all the boys in “Mixed Nuts” are there to support the girls. Gabe Martaron, a Pierson seventh grader, is a serious break dancer in his own right and is dedicated to his art.

“I’ve been dancing three years and I taught myself,” explains Gabe. “I’m dancing here with Meredith now just to be in these shows.”

“The thing about me, I can’t be taught something,” adds Gabe who has a hip hop solo as Elvis in “Mixed Nuts.” “Just give me a DVD with someone dancing — I’ll watch them dance and see what they do and I can do it.”

It’s young motivated dancers like Gabe who give Meredith hope that she and her mother are on the right track with Studio 3. Though she loves ballet, Meredith has come to understand how difficult it can be for those who want to dance professionally. She feels that by also offering jazz, tap, contemporary and hip hop, Studio 3 is not only providing boys with a way to get involved in dance, but ensuring all aspiring dancers have a range of opportunities in the future.

“We want to give kids that option,” she says. “You can be an amazing Broadway star, a Rockette, a Dallas Cowboys dancer — you have those options. Ballet is a great foundation. But it’s limiting.”

And of course … there are those tights.

Studio 3 presents “Mixed Nuts: A classic holiday Nutcracker … with a twist!” at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on Friday and Saturday, December 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. and on Sunday, December 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 ($15 students and seniors). To reserve call 537-3008 or email tickets@dancestudio3.com.

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20 Responses to “A Dance Performance With Something Completely Different — Boys!”

  1. Robin says:

    This is a very strange article. Ballet is “limiting?” What an odd thing to say. As a mother of a dancer who plans to pursue other dance forms besides ballet ultimately, I have spoken to many prestigious dance companies, both pre-professional and professional. They all say the same thing…one must have good ballet technique, multiple times a week as a solid foundation, that is the basis of all other dance. Actually, having steady ballet training throughout one’s formative years opens doors, not closes them. The dancers that “make it”, i.e. the Rockettes, for example, have had years of ballet training. The supplemental classes in other forms of dance benefit the dancer once she/he has the core traditional ballet technique. Perhaps it is difficult to compete in this area as a ballet studio, but saying that ballet is limiting is really quite incorrect. This coming from a dance teacher? Not having adequate training also can produce injury, as the “core” is not strengthened enough in the body. If the boys are being paid to perform, which was neglected to be mentioned in the article, this is another element to consider. I really wonder why it was not mentioned. That could certainly help in motivating boys to dance!

  2. Thank you Annette! What an amazing feature! Hope to see you at the show this weekend

  3. Diane says:

    I think the comment about Ballet being limiting was taken out of context. No one disputes the dedication and commitment it takes to be a professional dancer, however the reality is that only a fraction of a percent of dancers ever go on to have professional ballet careers.
    As the owner and director of Studio 3, I can tell her that we absolutely train our dancers to have solid ballet technique. The comment that suggests that we must be paying our boys to perform, is inaccurate, mean spirited, and attacks the desire and passion of the boys involved. Perhaps one can’t believe that there are actually boys who would dance for the joy of it. Our Company dancers, besides sacrificing countless hours to train, have also extended themselves to the community, to support and encourage their peers. Bravo Meredith, Studio 3 Company, and the entire cast of Mixed Nuts ! Thank you guys for volunteering your time and many hours of hard work on our production, and thank you Annette for writing such a candid and honest article about us.

  4. Robin says:

    Actually, I was trying to pass on accurate information. There is no question that the children are working hard. Articles should portray all aspects of a circumstance, and if boys were prompted to dance by offering money, it should have been included in the article. The author herself I feel hopeful would agree. Even if the boys did not, in the end, accept money, information about a circumstance should not be denied. The fact that it was not spoken about openly that all kinds of motivation brings forth interested people, including boys is nothing to be hidden or be embarrassed about. In the dance world, for example, there are so many fewer male dancers, that many boys and men pursue dance because, in part, it is a lucrative career. That is not to say they don’t love dance! That is only one aspect of why the boys might have been initially prompted and urged to join, giving them hope to encourage their love of dance. To attack that fact, I believe, is somewhat limited itself. No one argues with the percentage of those going on to successful ballet careers, however, ballet is in itself a critical tool to have under one’s belt if one is to pursue any sort of dancing career. My comment was not intended to be mean-spirited. It was based on true experiences and fact. There is no need for defensive commentary to attempt to minimize my opinion. Countless hours are given by students all over this area, including all dance studios to provide a gift to the community and Bravo! to all the dancers, those at Studio 3, Dance Arts, HBTS and other studios who are perfoming during this wondeful holiday season from all studios.

  5. Debbie says:

    My daughter has been dancing since the age of three, training in all styles of dance. We move out to Sag Harbot for the summers, which in the past has prohibited her from training at her home studio during these months. Last summer, we were lucky enough to find Studio 3, who were more than willing to help train my daughter and help her reach her full potential. My daughter fell in love with Ms. Diane, Meredith, and all of Studio 3, that she demanded to be driven an hour an a half each weekend to Sag Harbor in order to continue her training there, and be part of Mixed Nuts. Studio 3 has always taught that ballet technique comes first, and that it plays a vital role in one’s career as a dancer. It has been a very nuturing place for her, helping her surpass her expectations as well as giving her the confidence she needs as a dancer. Thanks to her training at Studio 3, my daughter is now a dancer on her college’s team! Good luck to all the dancers this weekend, I have full confidence that you will put on a spectacular performance!

  6. Carole Campolo says:

    I just returned from seeing Mixed Nuts. It was absolutely fantastic. It was so creative, so much fun and the dancing was excellent.

    I am a senior citizen that takes class at Studio 3. I studied somewhat seriously in my younger years and after retiring, I was lucky enough to find Studio 3. As teachers, Diane and Meredith Shumway are top notch. I was extremely lucky growing up to have an excellent dance teacher and his name was Dick Andros. Dick’s influence on my life carried through to a successful career in government, and to this day, I am physically fit and able to take class with the teenagers. I may move slowly and have aches and pains, but the creative outlet and the camaraderie at Studio 3 with the dancers is outstanding. Diane and Meredith maintain an atmosphere where dancers support each other and revel in their peers’ success. And that is so important because some schools create an atmosphere of competition. Dancers should compete with themselves, never their classmates.

    Diane and Meredith are absolutely beautiful dancers in their own right. In fact, Meredith was a student of one of ballet’s most famous teachers, Maggie Black, and her beautiful dancing shows her extraordinary talent.

    Tonight’s performance showcased talented, hard working, creative and most of all happy dancers. The boys were fantastic. The younger girls adorable and older girls, stunningly beautiful. I had the pleasure of working with the whole company in rehearsals and was blown away with their performance tonight.

    I cannot recommend highly enough Mixed Nuts to all Hampton residents. What a fun, entertaining evening you will have. And most of all, you will see the very best of our Hampton community with wonderful performances by each and every dancer, and an entertaining and creative program choreographed and directed by two extraordinary teachers, Diane and Meredith Shumway.

  7. Robin says:

    It is wonderful that you Debbie and Carole had good experiences at Studio 3. I know some of the female teenage dancers at Studio 3 and it warms my heart to know they must have had fun. I have been contacted by parents from Studio 3, as we still remain in touch, and our sharing that we wish the performances were not all on the same weekend so that the dancers could support each other during their respective performances (as well as the parents!) It is interesting Carole, that you brought up the issue of competition. Have you seen competition at other schools? I haven’t seen it at Danse Arts either. I actually have been refreshingly struck by the support and respect that students show each other. It is nice to see that people who are dancing at Studio 3 are praising the school, all people need to find their niche. What is lovely about the East End are that there are many options!

    Our daughter is now at Danse Arts and I must say, the performance last night with Danse Arts was truly spectacular, the skill level of ballet was amazing among the dancers there, and very different from a modern version! Students were brilliant, with one student even dancing the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which speaks to the technique and strength mastered. That is such a difficult part and to dance it on pointe! The costuming was gorgeous and truly I felt as though I was in New York City watching a professional ballet production of “The Nutcracker.” How inspiring! Tears streamed down my face as I saw my daughter dance, having recovered from a break in her back that she suffered with for quite a long time undiagnosed. To see her strong and sure, on pointe from all that she has learned at her new school is just such a satisfying feeling!

    I hope the community ventures out to see all productions, as it just adds to the wealth and breadth of options here. If you are looking for traditional ballet, modern, it’s all out there!

  8. Deanna Andes says:

    As a mother of one of the so called, paid boys (which he isn’t getting paid a dime), my son and I travel all the way from Riverhead to take part in this spectacular production. Coming from a basic background of dance through his private elementary school in the Hamptons, my son was asked to help out his south fork friends with his partnering skills. He was onboard. No money involved. We are very fortunate that Diane and Meredith are there to teach and guide these boys every step of the way- no pun intended. Studio 3 is lucky to have such nice and professional ladies at their helm who aren’t petty.

  9. Robin says:

    Deanna, I’m happy your son is has enjoyed his time there. Perhaps Diane can clear up the issue of money accurately, since you brought it up again. Was money ever spoken about as an option? Was any form of payment/compensation initially offered to make dancing in the production an interesting possibility? Pettiness is an interesting word! I’m sure many people can continue this fascinating discussion in such a forum! And I am sure there are many details to be added.

  10. Deanna Andes says:

    Dear Robin, no. Money was not brought up. These are young boys who are all friends. They were asked to partner and that is just what they are doing? I don’t see a problem with it but it seems like people are trying to make an issue out of something that isn’t even there? rumors are just that, rumors. Petty is the perfect word. We wouldn’t be driving all the way from the north fork if it wasn’t fun!

  11. Robin says:

    Dear Deanna, How nice that it was fun! I’m wondering why you keep bringing the money issue up! Lets just agree to disagree…we all are exposed to different information, no need to be petty!

  12. Amy says:

    Robin, you seem a little obsessed with every comment that has to do with this article! I’m wondering why someone has so much time on their hands to check back in every day to see if someone has left a comment. If your daughter was so tremendous, then don’t you think you should be putting all your energy there and not on other people? Talk about petty… I just came across this article and don’t know anything about this studio or your studio, but one things for sure, you obviously keep your tabs for a reason. My suggestion? You should be focusing on your child.. Not everyone else’s children.

  13. Robin says:

    Amy, I appreciate your comments. I would say to you that since you had time to peruse this article, you seem to have time on your hands. I am keeping tabs on this article for a reason. It’s just not something I want to go into in this forum, nor do I know who you are. I would suggest the same to you, you should focus on your child (if you have any.) Since you have (apparently) no experience with the respective studios, your comment is certainly interesting, but not very pertinent, in my opinion. Continue purusing and enjoy!

  14. gabe says:

    There was no money involved so get that out of your head for starters. I’m good friends with the guys and they would have told me if their was. This is something we do every year.Don’t just come in and say all this negative stuff. It isn’t right. You seem angry with every comment you make. It seems like you are trying to cause trouble so please stop. I love Studio 3! Just because someone didn’t pay enough attention to your daughter doesn’t mean the whole world is comming to an end. I tryed to be her friend but she rejected me just like she does at school. Maybe she’s not telling you everything. Don’t freak out on the studio and think we hated your daughter.

  15. Amy says:

    At your request, Robin, I will continue to peruse! In fact. I have plenty of time on my hands. I have 2 beautiful, grown children with families of their own. Normally I wouldn’t comment, but I was amused actually by your desire to vent so frequently and so emotionally on matters that (apparently) dont involve you. Your energy and voiced opinions should be expressed on much larger issues such as the financial situation in the world, troops still dying everyday as well as so many babies being born with diseases and aids. If I did have children who were interested in ballet, based on your responses, I would most likely stay far away from your studio. People like you are the reason that we are so messed up in the world, the reason we have war. If you haven’t done so, I strongly encourage a trip to a third world country. It might open your eyes to quite a larger picture. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to stop and smell the roses.

  16. Robin says:

    Amy, your comments truly are not relevant to me. Personally I would heed your own advice. It is odd to me that you would be commenting when you are so unfamiliar with facts. i am actually struck by your level of anger! The words “people like you” express a very global assessment and limited world view and just what results in the kind of world issues you speak about. I am purposely choosing not to say more regarding the situation. Gabe, i dont feel right talking about this with you because of your age, but just so you understand a small part, I never felt that my daughter did not get enough attention at studio 3. But I am proud of you that you are speaking your mind!

  17. gabe says:

    What does my age have to do with anything your acting my age now so say what you want

  18. Robin says:

    Hi Gabe,
    I honestly didn’t mean to offend you. I just feel it’s not appropriate for me to comment directly in this venue since you are not an adult yet. If you want to talk about this, your mom or you can call me….I truly meant no offense, truly. I wish you only the best, Gabe, you a brilliantly talented person….I am happy to share with you whatever answers I have to whatever questions you have if we should talk. Let your mom know that we would talk please. I think she has my number. If not, let me know. Just because of your age, it is important that your mom be involved. Robin.

  19. gabe says:

    This isn’t about me its about the studio and it hurts me when people talk bad about it cuz there my friends and family and when someone is beingmean to the studio there my friends and IM sticking up for them so if you really saport me or what ever don’t talk bad about the studio


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