FALMOUTH – On Tuesday morning in a big yard in West Falmouth, eight young children in tiny black top hats, red scarfs and white tutus will take turns dancing around a snowman.
Watching from a safe distance away will be Laura Sciortino, 41, artistic director of Turning Pointe Dance Studio. She will likely be smiling. She may also be crying.
This is what remains of Turning Pointe’s annual spring recital, which, this year, was to feature 90 dances and 400 dance students. Among those students were the eight youngest dancers, three and four years old, who were going to perform a dance called, “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?”
Another casualty of the pandemic, another cancellation. But in this case, the dancers are bringing joy to themselves, their families and to Sciortino, by dancing their hearts out in their costumes. They have been posting those pictures on Facebook, pictures of them dancing in those costumes. Leaping on a boardwalk. Performing grand jete, in other words, a leap, on a local beach. Twirling in their backyard.
Sciortino and the children’s dance teacher, Amy Sellers, coordinated the special outdoor snowman dance performance. Sellers’ husband, Paul, made the snowman that was to be featured in the dance.
“The children were so excited about the snowman being built that we thought we would give them a chance to see him and have a special moment with him,” Sciortino said.
The kids are invited in 15-minute increments to come to the yard in West Falmouth, dance around the snowman by themselves or with a sibling, as music plays.
“Most parents are looking for something safe and exciting for their kids to do now,” Sciortino said.
Every spring Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth is abuzz with preparations for the annual spring dance recital, an elaborate production featuring hundreds of student dancers, as well as professionals. For those littlest dancers, the preschoolers, it may have been their first time on stage. For older dancers, they were looking forward to their annual time to shine in the spotlight. And for six graduating seniors, it was to be their last time performing with Turning Pointe as they head off to college or dance programs around the country.
The posters for the recital, called “Dedications,” featuring Turning Pointe student Maddie Sabens, were distributed around the community and tickets were being sold. 700 costumes were ordered and delivered. Dance teachers were getting their students ready for the performances. Excitement was building.
Then the virus struck and things began to be cancelled.
At first Sciortino tried to think of a way around it. She was agonizing over how to salvage the recital. Could it be held outside on a rented dance floor? Virtually? Extra shows with smaller audiences? Postponed to later in the summer?
But with so many unknowns, trying to find a way to salvage the recital was creating too much stress.
“The teachers and I tried to brainstorm. But reusing the costumes next year was just not going to work. Classes change. Children grow. The dynamic changes. And the stress of trying to think of a new plan in a constantly evolving situation was too much.
“I had plan a, b, c, d, e, f and g,” she said.
In late April, when the Governor announced that school was canceled for the rest of the school year, Sciortino made the decision to cancel the concert. She sent the email to her students. “At this point, we all just needed to take a deep breath,” she said.
In order to take the pressure and stress off herself, her staff, her students and their parents, the best choice was to cancel.
“Not one person complained. Everyone knew this was hard,” she said.
But what to do with 700 costumes, custom-made, worth hundreds of dollars, paid for and non-returnable?
Sciortino decided to distribute the costumes to the parents, who paid for them at costs ranging from around $50 to $90.
Sciortino got an email from a parent asking how to care for the costumes. “Should we keep it on a hanger in our closet?” Scortino had a ready answer for all her students: “You shine in that costume. They should be enjoyed and worn,” she said.
That’s right. Instead of telling the parents and young dancers to keep the costumes pristine, in the plastic wrapping, in hopes of using them in the future, Sciortino encouraged her students to wear them, dance in them, perform for their families, hold a fashion show, even play in the mud in them, if they wanted. Children grow and the costumes may not fit in a couple of months, much less next year.
And so the students did just that. They put on their costumes, including the snowman dance costumes, and danced in them—all over Falmouth. Sciortino encouraged the students to share photos of them wearing the costumes on social media.
The show won’t go on but the costumes are being used to bring joy to the students, their parents and their dance teachers, including Sciortino.
Before the world turned upside down, Turning Pointe Dance Studio was having a very good year. Prior to the closing of non-essential businesses by the Governor, Sciortino, her staff and students were celebrating. Two of Turning Pointe’s dancers, Monica Welchman and Darien Santos, won first place in the semifinals of the Youth America Grand Prix, an international dance competition in Boston, and Turning Pointe was awarded prestigious award of Outstanding Dance School out of 78 other dance schools at the same competition.
The finals which were to be held in New York have now been canceled.
Turning Pointe has undergone impressive growth since Sciortino bought it in 2005, 15 years ago. The studio after two expansions is now just shy of 5,000-square-foot studio and holds 77 classes a week. The fourth quarter session was coming up and students were signing up for the summer dance intensives.
Now, Sciortino has canceled the fourth quarter and is giving free classes on Facebook Live to her students.
“We try to meet with every student at least once a week to stay connected and keep them engaged,” she said.
She still gets emotional when talking about the canceled recital.
“I think the hardest part of it is the six seniors. That’s the heart-breaking part. Four of them have been dancing with me since they were four years old. They look forward to [the recital] just like their prom and graduation. The final dance recital is huge,” she said.
At the final recital, the seniors always have a special role in the production, a part built around them and their skills.
Typically, Sciortino might have at most three seniors in the program. Six is the most ever. They are Celeste Newman, Miranda Van Mooy, Olivia Depunte, Kinsale Steedman, Liadan Gallagher and Ceili Cochrane.
Sciortino plans to hold an event in August in the studio with just the seniors and their families, “a celebration of them” where they get to perform their dances.
Among the seniors, Miranda Van Mooy is not only a graduating senior but she also teaches three classes at Turning Pointe. She had choreographed dances and picked out costumes for her students.
Once the performance was canceled, Sciortino encouraged the students to share photos via social media of them dancing in their costumes.
With the recital off the table and an unknown amount of time until classes can resume, Sciortino is also urging her students to explore the wonderful opportunities in the dance world now with free online classes from top dancers.
“Kids can take classes from dance stars from around the world and I tell them to take advantage of that,” she said.
Sciortino is encouraging her students to explore parts of the world of dance newly available online. New York City Ballet is offering free videos of Balanchine ballets that have not been available for years. They can watch those ballets and those ballerinas and study them. Cara McManus, who studied at Turning Pointe and is now dancing with the prestigious Martha Graham Dance Company, gave Turning Pointe students a master class online.
They can study dance history, Sciortino said. Pick up an instrument. Study music theory.
“What I’m telling my students is come out of this smarter. Come out of this more knowledgable about their art,” she said.
She is also trying to spread the joy of dance to the community. On Wednesday, Turning Pointe students will perform in the courtyard of Bourne Manor Extended Care Facility, for the residents, who can watch out their windows. The dancers will perform solo or in groups of two if they are siblings. The students choreographed their works themselves at home, Sciortino said.
Meanwhile, when it is allowed, she is hoping, as a first step, to start private lessons in the studio, one-on-one. She has a number of elite dancers who are in a special pre-pro program at Turning Pointe and they are training for jobs in the dance world.
Sciortino said the six students in the pre-pro program “are training at an Olympic level.” Taking weeks off from training is out of the question. Some parents are buying their kids ballet barres to help them to train at home.
As a second step, she is hoping to move forward with July and August schedule of dance intensives in an abbrieviated schedule, though she knows the classes will likely need to be smaller than usual. Students can walk in to the dance studios straight from outside, not through the lobby. There will be time between classes where everything is sanitized.
But for now, Sciortino and her dancers are living in the present, putting on their costumes and dancing.
In order to get the 700 costumes to her students, Sciortino organized a three-day-long pick up with parents scheduled in 15-minute slots. She put each student’s costumes outside the studio in a basket with the student’s name. She wore a mask and waved to the students from the studio window as they picked up their baskets. She tried to keep a smile on her face for each student, though she couldn’t hold back the tears.
“It was so hard for me,” she said.
It has taken Sciortino, who danced professionally before opening up the studio, a long time to get to this place. During the more than 15 years she has had the studio, she has married and is raising two children, Henry, 9, and Cordelia, 7. “It’s taken many years of hard work to get here. It’s been such an amazing year. I’m not giving up. Turning Pointe is going to come back stronger than ever,” she said.
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ALL PHOTOS IN SLIDESHOW COURTESY TURNING POINTE.
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