All you need is the will and your body will follow, allowing you to thoroughly enjoy Jesse Keller Jason’s adult community dance class at the West Tisbury library on Tuesday mornings. Jesse’s the director of Island Programs and Education and co-producer at The Yard. It’s a no-pressure experience, and there’s a welcoming atmosphere among the some 16 or so dancers who happily chat away while getting ready for class.
One of the dancers, Janet Hefler, said she comes because “you don’t have to be a fabulous dancer, and everybody is just very comfortable together. There’s a lot of stretching and movement. You don’t have to have experience, we all just move at our own pace. And it’s really quite a workout.”
Rebecca Kline pointed to her friend Margaret Emerson, who told her about the class. “I said it sounded like a great thing. I don’t have a lot of rhythm, but let’s go for it.” Margaret added, “I was attracted to come because Jesse is teaching. I know her from watching her perform. I just love the way she dances, and I know that she educates people about dance on the island. I thought, What an opportunity to have this class. It sounded like it was something different.”
The class follows a traditional modern dance class structure. It starts out slow and gentle, easing your body into waking up and becoming well-oiled. Folks stood in a circle and Jesse led them in a series of reaches, waist twists, and neck rolls set to inspiring, lively music. Soon after she asked everyone to start walking in whatever pattern they wished following the beat, and then she’d call out new ways they should move, such as sliding side to side.
Next the dancers stood in three straight rows facing Jesse as she led them through exercises of specific body parts. There were gentle roll-downs, with knees bent and letting your head go slowly toward the floor. There was some balance and strengthening work, standing on alternating feet with one raised slightly off the floor; gentle, flowing lunges; and moving through traditional dance positions of the arms and feet.
Folks really started to get moving when they reviewed and then danced a pattern of sequences, typically termed choreography, with everyone spontaneously singing the song aloud.
Jesse included time for improv, where everyone could interpret instructions with their own bodies in whatever way they chose. The class split in half, with one half performing for the other, and then vice versa, a nice recognition of everyone’s artistry.
The class ended with a cooldown of stretches and gestures to flute and piano music, eventually coming to a gentle standstill. After a moment of silence, everyone broke out in applause.
“What brings me is the love of body movement, of motion,” said Gaston Vadasz, who obviously enjoyed the class. “Despite the fact that I’m a pretty large person, I’ve loved dance, and this gives me an opportunity to get my balance back. And I think Jesse and the Yard are a treasure on this Island. It’s just wonderful to be able to do something with your body that limbers you up, makes you stronger, and yet it’s fun.”
After everyone had left, Jesse said, “I don’t want it to feel like an exercise class, but like a dance class from start to finish, and adding in lots of balance work, lots of flexibility, as well as adding that creative side of it and leaving that that space for the choreography we build upon each week. But I want it to feel like what a real dance class does; adding that artistry in is really important.” She said her original goal was “giving that flow of a dance class, for people to have social interaction, having fun while they’re working out and building strength, and really using their brain to make choices. We have a reoccurring group, so we can kind of build on things. But if somebody comes in as a newcomer, that’s fine too.”
Jesse said she is surprised at how enthusiastic the dancers are. “How people want that creative side of it was surprising at first, because I wasn’t sure how much choreography to put in, and improvisation,” she said. “People feel good about that, and they want to be able to make their own choices with their bodies. It also surprises me how good I feel leaving the space. I love the people who’ve been coming. I feel energized. And that’s the point about dance and moving together. Dance is a social art form, so you need people to connect with.”
All levels of experience are welcome to join the class at the West Tisbury library on Tuesdays from 10:30 am to 12 pm, running through the end of December, and possibly again starting later in the winter. Dress in casual clothes in which you can easily move, and wear layers you can remove as the class progresses and you warm up.