For the ages

Jesse Jason introduces multigenerational students to the joys of dance.

A group of young future dancers watch Jason's class. — Courtesy Jesse Jason

As the West Tisbury library website states, every body is welcome in Jesse Jason’s Saturday morning community dance class. Whether a budding novice, emerging dancer, or old pro, Jason will make sure there is something for everyone. And you’re guaranteed a wonderful time.

As it happens, the students often skew toward older adults, and Jason loves working with this population. 

“The whole class is filled with joy and a sense of community,” Jason says. “There’s a carefree feeling to the classes that I teach, because they’re really meant to bring the group together for the experience and let everyone take what they will from the class. It’s a moment that we really get to enjoy each other and the art form.” There’s no pressure to look like a professional. She explains, “I really try to teach the community dance classes with the mentality of entering the space as you are, and to give to the space and each other what you can offer.”

Jason began working with older adults when teaching the community classes at the Yard, which she did for some 10 years. She found that her class worked for a variety of ages. Jason would have kids as young as 10 years old and adults in their 80s. 

“My class started to lend itself to being one that people knew they could go to with little to no dance experience or be a professional and be in that space,” she explains. From one class to the next, Jason never knew who was going to come, so she had to learn how to plan her classes for a young body or an older body. But Jason believes that she had a large number of older adults because they felt that they could participate.

It was similar when she began at the library — an older population seemed to be the ones taking part in the classes. Jason explains, “So I started to explore movement or exercises that focused more on balance, flexibility, and memory.”

But the biggest difference perhaps in teaching older students she reflects is, “There’s a sense of enjoying the experience of moving that is very different from teaching young professionals who want to perfect the art form. Personally, I like moving for moving’s sake, because I love to move.” Her approach eliminates the pressure to have to stretch your leg to a certain height or perform a dance combination perfectly.

Conducting community classes has taught Jason to be flexible. When she was at the Yard, Jason might think her class that day was going to be filled with the professional dancers in residence and thus plan a more difficult class, only to discover that it was filled with kids and older individuals from the community who had never taken a formal class before. “So,” Jason says, “I’d have one plan and then I would have a backup plan. It’s made me a better teacher, needing to teach that way.”

Jason got into dance early on at the local studio, and continued with ballet and creative movement until about middle school, when she decided to get serious and began a rigorous ballet program. She says, “I just stuck with it. I loved dancing and performing. I also loved choreographing at a young age.” Jason went to Ohio University, earning a bachelor’s degree in performance and choreography, and then joining Stefanie Batten Bland’s company in France.

“Dance took me a lot of places in my career, and it ended up helping me find my home on the Vineyard through an internship at the Yard,” Jason shares. “I found my love, got married, and now my life is here … and I owe it all to dance.” 

In addition to teaching at the library, Jason is now working with the other end of the age spectrum at M.V. Community Services, diving into early childhood education. “I find it very interesting, because I have such a connection with older adults, and I’m exploring these two polar opposites, early childhood and what movement and education means to that population, and then what it means to us later in life,” she says. 

And in case you think she’s not busy enough, among other pursuits Jason also has been working the past two years with Abby Bender of Built on Stilts to create site-specific work that pulls in the community and Island dancers that, she believes, has helped her test her chops at dance theater, singing and speaking on stage, and becoming more of an all-around performer.

“Everybody should try a dance class at some point in their life,” Jason says. “If you’ve always wanted to and you never have, you can come to my dance class.”

Community Dance classes at the West Tisbury library on Saturdays from 10:30 to 11:30 am through Memorial Day are free, and open to the public and all ages.