For the past few months, the seniors at the Pete McGuinness Senior Center have been working up a sweat, while getting their dance on, under the tutelage of dancer and choreographer Rachel Cohen, who has brought her two decades of experience to the facility.
On Tuesday, June 23, the doors of the Leonard Street center will be thrown open to the community which is invited to partake in their performances and check out the work they’ve accomplished.
The partnership between Cohen and visitors to the Senior Center came about through the Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide (SPARC) Program. It’s a partnership between the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Department for the Aging and five local arts councils. The program places artists-in-residence in senior centers across the city, for which they get a stipend, access to materials and space at the senior center to develop programming.
Cohen, who has her own rehearsal space/production company, Racoco Productions, in Bushwick, wanted to give back to the North Brooklyn community, a place she has called home for over a decade now.
“I recently began feeling that the performance venues in the neighborhood were doing art for other artists and there wasn’t much of a connection with the outside world,” said Cohen, who began conducting the dance workshops at Pete McGuiness back in March. “I was feeling a bit disconnecting from the neighborhood and I was interested in seeing what it would be like working with seniors and connecting with the community out here.”
Cohen began the workshops with basic exercise, short dance sequences, and using a chair as a prop to create movements. Her goal is to encourage the seniors to be comfortable enough to create their own choreography.
One of the bigger challenges running the program has been maintaining a steady attendance. When the class is held in one of the smaller recreational rooms at the center about five people show up, but when classes are held at the cafeteria, over a dozen are in attendance. But it’s always uncertain whether the same group of people will return next week. Recently for example, one of Cohen’s students returned to Poland.
But Cohen has enjoyed interacting with a whole new set of people, who might never have been exposed to her work were it not for the SPARC program, and she’s keen on teaching more such classes.
Cohen has performed in the city since 1997 and has pursued dance since childhood. She graduated Harvard University with a degree in performance as communication. At the university, her dance teacher, Claire Mallardi, inspired her to pursue dance professionally. Cohen started her own company in 2003, which became a non-profit in 2005, and Cohen along with her collaborators continues to perform in the city today.
Greenpoint Dances Open House, June 23, Pete McGuiness Senior Center, 715 Leonard Street, 10:30 a.m. To learn more about Rachel Cohen, visit http://www.racoco.org/index.php and to learn more about the SPARC program, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcla/html/sparc/sparc.shtml.