OLEAN — Neighborhood School of Dance held its 45th annual recital May 14 in Bradner Stadium, an outdoor celebration that rewarded dancers who for months overcame numerous obstacles to learn and practice safely.
Family, friends and supporters saw roughly 100 children, teenagers and adults express their love of dancing before a live audience for the first time in over a year.
A year ago, NSD owner Brittany Thierman wasn’t sure when dancing would once again grace her 609 S. Union St. studio, let alone continue its recital tradition. The recital has been held for decades at the Olean High School auditorium — long before a young NSD student then named Brittany Stevens discovered her passion and made it a career.
Last year’s recital, just months into the coronavirus outbreak, was recorded remotely and played in the NSD parking lot for masked patrons in camping chairs.
“We did something really special this year,” Thierman said as tears welled, recalling the exhaustive efforts required by instructors, students and guardians alike to navigate COVID-19 protocols. “For these kids, dancing and the art of self-expression is more than just an afterschool hobby. They live for the feeling of putting movement to music.”
The May 14 recital capped months of work beginning with a return to in-studio instruction in September. Performances encompassed the school’s various age ranges from “Twinkle Stars” featuring 2- to 3-year-olds through high school and adult classes. Dance styles included hip-hop, tap, ballet, pointe and jazz.
The St. Bonaventure University dance team, which was unable to perform on campus this year, was also featured, honoring its seniors.
Thierman’s other NSD studio in Port Allegany, Pa. will host its 5th annual recital Saturday at the Borough Square.
Renee Williams’ daughter, Olivia, came to Neighborhood School of Dance in 2007. She’s now a senior in high school. Williams said the recital was the “most emotional and spectacular we’ve ever experienced,” given the pandemic’s chaos.
“Thank you so much to Brittany and all of the NSD family for rising up during such a difficult and crazy time to make our final recital so special,” she said.
A mother of four NSD dancers, Colleen Chahal also was concerned her eldest daughter, Kaura, would miss an important senior-year milestone.
“Instead, we were treated to the most memorable recital in our 14 years with NSD,” Chahal said. “I am in awe of the effort Brittany, her staff and all of the dancers put into pulling off a truly spectacular show. This was more than just a dance recital. It was proof that even under the most challenging circumstances, when people are willing to be flexible and creative, wonderful things happen.”
Instruction during the 2020-21 dance season followed coronavirus precautions. Choreography was adjusted to follow social-distancing guidelines, with each dancer occupying their own 64-square-foot area of dance floor. Class sessions were limited to 10 students each, beginning with temperature screenings, questionnaires and, of course, masks and loads of hand sanitizer.
Both dance school locations celebrated a full year with no positive coronavirus tests linked to in-person classes.
The model, Thierman said, has inspired other local activities as society still grapples with COVID restrictions.
“I’ve had a couple organizations reach out and ask how we did things with the recital, so they can try to replicate our model in a way,” she said. “I’m glad we can show the community it can be done and help make gatherings possible.”
For the students, the successful season offered a release from a year fraught with difficulty.
“They all needed to be part of something this past year, and the NSD studio was a perfect place for them to put their energies,” said Paula Derwick, mother of dancer Liyah. “As a parent, I can’t thank the studio enough for the home they gave the dancers. I believe NSD provides way more than learning to dance. It inspires confidence, perseverance and a safe place to grow.”
And for Thierman — who purchased her beloved childhood dance school in 2013 — that’s all she could ask.
“Someday in the future when they’re old and grown, driving around doing errands, a song comes on the radio that they haven’t heard in a while that they danced to during one of our recitals,” Thierman said. “My wish for them is that the song reminds them of the time they spent with us and makes them crack a smile. When that happens, I want them to know that all the time spent at the studio was not wasted. It was actually something really special.”