Jesse Keller’s Dance With The Yard to be offered at Y

Jesse Keller's first experience as a teacher was in ballet. Since then she has concentrated more on modern and contemporary dance. — Photo courtesy of Jesse Keller

Under the leadership of new artistic director David White, The Yard has commenced an initiative to bring collaborative, educational programs to the Island during the off season. The Chilmark dance colony’s first effort will be a series of dance classes at the YMCA that will begin at the end of this month. The classes will be overseen by Jesse Keller, a three-year Yard veteran who was just recently named the organization’s Resident Manager, Island Programs and Education.

The Y dance program, Dance with the Yard, will include weekly classes for four age groups (from five-year-olds to teens) and will incorporate the fundamentals of modern, ballet, and creative dance. The conclusion of each 14-week session will be a public performance. Ms. Keller, a master teacher and choreographer, will, when possible, be joined in teaching by Yard staff members and visiting artists.

With Ms. Keller’s appointment, The Yard for the first time is creating a full-time, year-round, on-Island position. Ms. Keller has been with the Yard for more than three years, serving in both teaching and administrative capacities. “Jesse’s a master teacher and a wonderful artist,” The Yard’s Artistic and Executive Director David White said. “She embodies to me what we want The Yard presence to be. A major artist who has always returned to The Yard. She’s very plugged into the population, and she’ll have a major role in developing relationships and educational initiatives.”

For her part Ms. Keller said, “We’re really trying this year to be out in the community and trying to provide different programs that we can tie in anywhere in the community.”

Ms. Keller first came to the Island as a summer intern for the Yard in 2009. At that time she had earned a BFA in Performance and Choreography from Ohio University and was a member of the Stefanie Batten Bland dance company of Paris and New York. She relocated to New York in the winter of 2009 and resumed her dance career with Stefanie Batten Bland, which is currently one of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s “dance fellows.” She will continue performing with that troupe, making occasional trips off-Island.

Returning to the Vineyard from New York City in 2010, Ms. Keller became a full-time summer staff member of the Yard, teaching and performing administrative duties, and she stayed on, as a part-time Yard employee through last winter. Along with her duties for the Yard, Ms. Keller will be teaching dance classes at the Rise Performing Arts in Vineyard Haven.

“I’ve been teaching for about eight years,” Ms. Keller said. “I started more in a ballet-based teaching program. I branched out to quite a few things — mainly modern and contemporary now. I love teaching and I’m looking forward to teaching at the Y.

“What we’re going to be working from are the fundamental elements of dance — things like space, time, force. That takes us into the concept of creating a form. It won’t be classically structured. A lot of it will be basic warm-ups and basic techniques and we’ll definitely be moving. Students who realize they want to go deeper into the technique of dance will know where to take it from there.”

Along with her teaching responsibilities, Ms. Keller will also be fulfilling a number of administrative duties and will be the on-Island point of contact for the Yard. “I think it’s very important to have somebody who stays the whole time,” she said. “There are still bills, mail, people calling.”

Ms. Keller will be joined in the off season by two part-time employees — Director of Communications and Artist Services Michele Sasso and Alison Kisselgof, who this year was appointed as the Director of Finances.

“Alison is very adept financially,” Mr. White said. “She came on board this spring as our financial comptroller, a position that the Yard didn’t have just over a year ago, which might stem off some of the difficulties we have faced.”

Alison Manning, who has worked for The Yard for four years, most recently as Development Director, was promoted last year to the position of General Manager. As of last week, Ms. Manning took on the title of Associate Director of The Yard.

“Alison [Manning] and Jesse have a great allegiance and loyalty to The Yard,” Mr. White said. “They are one of the reasons that the Yard is still alive and kicking financially. I value them and now I will try to rebuild the Yard mission in collaboration with them.”

Mr. White also said, “All of this is recognizing the capabilities and personal commitment that these people have had over the years. It’s clear that Alison and Jesse have been linchpins in keeping The Yard alive.”

The Y dance program is a first step in what Mr. White sees as a continuing off-season expansion of The Yard’s presence on the Vineyard. “The Yard really should be seen as an organization that can serve the Island population throughout the year,” Mr. White said. “I’m going to try to really understand and propagate a relationship between The Yard and the community that is here all year-round.”

The Dance with The Yard fall/winter session will run from October 24 through Feb. 24. Y members, $140; non-members, $175. For more information, visit