Features

Ballet, bikes foster sense of community

By
City & State Editor
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dancing in the street

Sandwiched between shops offering Indian food and olive oil, a world-class dance company is thriving on Hope Street. 

Festival Ballet Providence, now in its 35th season, holds court over the Rhode Island dance scene. It is home to over 270 students and 25 Company members from across the world, said Development Manager Shana Santow. Beyond ballet, the school offers modern dance and jazz classes and caters to almost every age and ability – from babies eight months old to senior citizens.

In conjunction with Meeting Street School, which enrolls children with severe challenges, the ballet school provides three levels of Adaptive Classes catered to the needs and strengths of children with Down’s syndrome, Santow said. The program, now in its fourth year, was modeled after a similar collaboration between Boston Ballet and Boston Children’s Hospital, she said.

 The school’s three main studios are housed at its Hope Street location. In a tribute to any little girl who has dreamt of becoming a ballerina, gleaming satin slippers and Angelina Ballerina books hold places of honor in the front display case.

On certain afternoons, Hope Street seems to run pink. The school’s smallest ballerinas flit from the building as classes let out – tutus bobbing, clasped hand-in-hand with parents – to secure a well-earned treat at Seven Stars Bakery.

Black and white headshots pop boldly off the school’s dusky rose walls, and strains of classical music drift out toward the reception area. A small sign dissuades would-be helicopter parents from crowding into the studios and entering their child’s world of dance.

Trixie, a petite dog with a big role to play in the company’s annual production of The Nutcracker , pads freely down the halls, pink leash dragging behind.

Waiting dancers scatter through the building, contorting their limbs effortlessly. Leg warmers and thick sweaters are peeled off, and untamed hair is swirled neatly into buns. Transformed, company members float through the studios, caught up in the music and movement.  

 The Company’s productions range widely, including black box theater performances, schools visits and annual holiday productions. 

“We love to bring the arts to people,” Santow said.

Fittingly, one of the most important parts of Festival Ballet’s mission is community outreach.

 Last year, funding from Festival Ballet allowed students at Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence to spend six weeks fully immersed in a curriculum guided by Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” culminating in a trip to view the live performance. Santow said she is already applying for a similar grant – the new crop of seventh graders can hardly wait for their turn to come.

“For many of the students, this is the only opportunity they may have to see something of this caliber,” Santow said. The school also offers scholarships to students in need.

 In an effort to bring the arts to even more Rhode Islanders, the school took advantage of a viral hit that has captured the U.S. Olympic swimming team and President Obama, among others. Festival Ballet was the driving force behind the “Call Me Maybe” flash mob that hit Kennedy Plaza Saturday evening.

 

Caster’s, the friendly bicycle shop

Steps away from Hope’s main street bustle, a string of twinkle lights dangles from the silhouette of an elegant white bicycle. Caster’s Bicycle and Fitness shop has been a Rhode Island institution since 1919 – the business has seen three generations of family owners and thousands of happy cyclists.

Wide open doors, free tire inflation and a big bowl of water for thirsty pups underscore the store’s friendly atmosphere. Community members regularly stop by with their bikes for repair, staff-led riding groups and just to say hello.

Just through the entry, the scent of fresh rubber greets customers’ noses. Caster’s offers all manners of equipment, accessories and bike-savvy staffers. Several vintage bicycles, complete with huge wheels, sway gently from the ceiling, and gleaming new bikes of all shapes and sizes line the walls.

Though the shop is slightly off the beaten track for most Brown students, a rising number of faculty members are riding to work, said store employee Stephanie Farrar.

Despite the potholes, Providence is a very bikeable city because it is small and accessible, Farrar said. Rhode Island also has plans to become part of the East Coast Greenway, a proposed bicycle highway that will eventually run the length of the entire coast, she added.

And when winter rolls through New England and Providence’s steep hills turn slick, the store offers spin classes – customers fit their own bikes into fixed spinning apparatuses, similar to exercise bikes, Farrar said. “It’s a way to ride in a group but not be out in the cold.”

 

Providence loves its farmers

Autumn weekend mornings find many College Hill residents still in the throes of deep slumber. But at the grassy intersection between Hope Street and Blackstone Boulevard, a thriving farmer’s market springs to life each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Families meander through the stalls, clutching children, coffee and brilliantly colored bouquets.

More than 30 vendors from around the state come to sell their wares at the market, not including the row of local artists proffering scarves, jewelry and paintings. The field, lined with white tents and crowded with hundreds of shoppers, causes its Wriston Quadrangle counterpart to pale dramatically in comparison.

The Hope Street market is perhaps the state’s best showcase of the season’s local flavors. Fresh greens are heaped high on tables, and squashes and gourds tumble onto the ground. Farmers reach into coolers to bring out dozens of fresh eggs and pounds of glistening scallops.

For late risers, a smaller version of the market is also open on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. Come November, the farmers, and the local foodies who love them, will move shop to their winter location, an old mill in Pawtucket.

But despite varying locations and seasonal offerings, one factor remains steadfastly constant – the line at the Seven Stars tent never gets any shorter.

 

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