The Daily Journal, New Jersey
Photographs by Cody Glenn
August 22, 2009
VINELAND — The boys practice as they wait in line, carefully eyeing each step, swirl and hand motion of the girls as they sweep across the basement studio floor.
On his turn, Spencer Wetherington steps quickly and gently into his spins. His eyes rarely leave the front wall as he glides. At just 11 years old, Spencer is already in his eighth year with Maxine’s Dance Studio. “I remember I was in the car and my mom asked me, ‘Do you want to do soccer or dance?’ And I said, ‘Let’s try dance,'” Spencer said. “I started and I just fell in love with it.”
Boys are a rare find in a dance studio, but Kimberly Chapman, co-director at Maxine’s, has made it her mission to remedy that at her small East Avenue studio.
In 2006, she started waiving what would normally be a $600 bill and welcomed local boys to attend classes free for a year. That was part of what brought Jason Ferro, now 10, to Maxine’s studio. He also really wanted to take tap after seeing some characters do it on “Sesame Street.” “I like to spin and jump and go really fast,” Jason said.
Spencer came to Maxine’s before the free year was available, but was able to attend on a half scholarship of about $300 annually — the same price tag for any boy who stays after the free year.
Seven boys registered to dance at Maxine’s in 2006. Last year, she had 15 — enough to create two classes, one for 4- to 7-year-olds and another for 8- to 12-year-olds. All 15 plan to return as paying customers, and fit in well among the roughly 150 girls who register each year, Chapman said.
“I think it’s helpful that TV has gotten into it with ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and ‘Best Dance Crew,'” she said. “It has helped get rid of the stigma that people think. It’s not all tights and pink tutus.”
At Maxine’s, the boys start with ballet, but also learn hip-hop, jazz and tap dances. Learning the art of dance helps the young men avoid injuries in sports and develops their coordination, Chapman said.
Zachery Schwab is living proof of the latter. He started coming to Maxine’s at age 10. “I was growing at such a fast rate it was just awkward. I was 6-foot in eighth grade,” he said.
Schwab, now 28, said dance has taken him from his Deerfield home to visit all corners of the world, and he just spent his first full year with the Rebecca Davis Dance Company in Philadelphia.
There’s another plus, too — because men are rare in dance, they are more likely to get noticed. “Guys in the dance world are needed, and if you get good enough, you can get a free ticket,” Chapman said.
Maxine’s girls also benefit from having men in the studio. Elizabeth Tkaczynski, 17, has been at Maxine’s long enough to know a studio without men means performances in which girls must play both feminine and masculine roles. “It’s good to have the younger boys because they can grow up in the dance studio, and there is partnering,” she said.
The dancers at Maxine’s Studio have put on a performance of the Nutcracker every winter for 30 years, and last year was the first time the studio had boys to actually play the boys’ parts, Chapman said.
“Even if they are not going to be a dancer, they’re going to be great people in society, creative people in society,” she said
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