Dancers’ philosophy of movement comes together in studio classes

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Second of two parts

By M.E. Jones

Correspondent

HARVARD — The new Dance and Movement Studio housed in the former Hapgood Room at the Old Library for the duration of the Pilot Program was not in use when a Harvard Hillside reporter met Sheila Peters and Edie Hettinger there one recent morning.

Gone were the hefty furniture and shelves of records that filled the space when it was a meeting room. It was open, airy, with a black marley floor, a half-wall of mirrors, portable ballet barres and not much else.

The new studio looked like a space whose time had come.

Classes had been underway for three weeks, with offerings that ranged from creative dance/yoga and play dancing for young children to jazz for teens and adults; physical awareness, chair exercise, afro-yoga, stretch, and ballet, beginning and intermediate. Peters and Hettinger put this place together and are two of the several teachers who had started holding classes there.

The two dancers said it’s important for people to know they are not an existing business, “just like-minded dancers” offering programs in this rented space, which is “not a dance school, per se.”

Beyond the basics, Hettinger and Peters said they are interested in helping adults fix the alignment of their bodies, which they may not know are out of whack. Once it’s aligned, the body feels better, taller, stronger, they said.

During her career, Peters favored a “fusion” of name-brand modern techniques with traditional ballet. Now, her stretch classes are all about alignment, she said.

Hettinger said she was a “reluctant” dance teacher when Kate Cross recruited her to teach advanced ballet at her studio, which has since closed. She wasn’t aiming to make a living at it, but she enjoyed the experience.

This enterprise interested her because she doesn’t have to be a “business person,” she said, “just an artist and a teacher of good dance technique.”

Peters, however, is in business with partner JP Harris, also an ex-dancer, who makes a living as a management consultant. Unlike Hettinger, teaching is Peters’ livelihood now. She uses dance, stretch and motivational therapy using dance-inspired movement to help people align psychologically as well as physically, get in sync with work and home life and improve personal and professional performance.

Like Hettinger, Peters is passionate about dance, but stopped performing years ago. “I had a long career,” she said. Over 35 years. Now, her journey has segued to another stage.

Both women said there are right and wrong ways to teach and learn dance, from the fundamentals of ballet to showy jazz steps to creative, modern moves.

For young girls, particularly, they agreed the dream of dancing professionally can be a heartbreaker. Only a few will make it.

As she talked about “deep stretch” moves and “moving massage,” it sounded like working out could be gentler than a couch potato might think. Peters said a mature adult body responds well to stretch exercises, even after injury. If someone has an injury, she can gauge an exercise around it, she said, based on audio cues and a “visual body scan.”

After a stretch session, a man in one of her classes said that he realized for the first time that the hips were separate from the spine. The exercises can improve core strength, Peters explained, resulting in a lengthened neck, looser hips, easier breathing.

Talk turned to more traditional dance classes. Asked to tag an “ideal number,” Hettinger said seven, maybe eight. “For this space, it feels right,” she said.

Of course, when it’s a business decision, that number may go up a bit. “Ten,” Peters said. Besides efficiency, there’s a synergy in numbers, she said, energy that moves among the dancers, who can learn from one another as well as the teacher.

But since this is not a “school,” the focus is on quality instruction and individual attention. That approach enhances self-esteem, they said.

For a current class schedule, availability, prices, teacher profiles and contact information, visit www.harvard.ma.us/pilotproject or call Edie Hettinger at 978-314-0907 or 978-772-0158, or call Sheila Peters at 781-354-0725.