It’s a little after 5:30 on a Friday evening, and the teens are anxiously waiting for ballet class. Before lacing up their pointe shoes, they run through an intense warm-up routine, meticulously extending their limbs to prepare for the hour-long session. After about fifteen minutes of stretching, it’s finally time to begin. As the music starts, the dancers immediately line up on the barre. They begin in first position, heels touching with the balls of their feet turned out and arms held out gracefully in an oval shape. While they transition from first position to second, their faces read focused, yet completely poised. As they move delicately throughout the room, using the studio mirrors as their critical guide, ballet and pointe instructor, Candace Stanford coaches them along the way.
“Rise up, first position, feet up!” Stanford says sternly.
Stanford is one of the many dedicated dance instructors at Point Flex Dance Studio in East Germantown.
Pointe Flex Dance Studio, located at 1018 East Chelten Avenue, offers a variety of dance classes to both children and adults. The studio, which is known for their family-oriented atmosphere, caters to their students by providing individualized attention during each session. With several different dance programs, from their fall and winter classes to their dance summer camp, students have an abundance of opportunities to perform throughout the year. The studio’s non-profit traveling dance troupe, “On Pointe,” has performed at several popular locations, such as Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens and the ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Deja Noland, 9, has been dancing with Pointe Flex since she was 2 years old. Over the course of her seven years at the studio, Noland has taken tap, ballet, company and hip-hop dance. When asked whom her favorite instructor was, without even as much as a slight pause to contemplate she replied “Ms. Yvette,” with a gleaming smile.
Yvette Solomon, director of Pointe Flex Dance Studio, founded the dance school in September of 1995. It all began with a few dance lessons at St. Benedict’s Daycare and quickly transformed into a full-fledged dance school, complete with daily classes and biannual recitals. Considering the level of success Pointe Flex has achieved, it’s hard to believe the studio emerged from humble beginnings. Solomon recalls moments throughout the studio’s history when finances were a struggle.
“Even though financially we couldn’t afford things, we made it work because it’s like a family,” Solomon explained. “Now, thankfully, we have a lot of people that support and help out. So now, it’s better accommodations. But even when we don’t have it, the children don’t mind making do with what we do have.”
Though Solomon first began dancing at age 7, her career as an instructor partially stemmed from a traumatic incident she experienced as a freshmen student at Temple University. At 18, Solomon was stabbed repeatedly with a butcher knife on the steps of the SEPTA subway station at Broad Street and Susquehanna Avenue.
“From that incident my whole world was changed,” said Solomon. “I was just scared, nervous, everything. And my dance teacher Cheryl Jenkins, she’s the one who pulled me in, I think that she saved my life. I could have been sheltered and not wanting to be bothered like that and she was like ‘Alright, you can’t dance anymore, but you know, you can teach this class.’ I’m like oh, she trusts me to teach?”
Dance can be utilized as a way to express an emotion or release energy. Teaching dance became Solomon’s escape.
“Your best work comes out when you’re emotional,” Solomon keenly acknowledged. “Dance is that outlet to be able to express whatever emotion you’re feeling and it gets you past it.”
With proper execution, dance can also be an innovative way to stay active and fit for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Research has shown that dancing reduces stress and prevents heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Other physical and mental benefits include better coordination and flexibility, greater self-confidence and weight management.
Suzette Ellison, a Navy veteran and parent of a Pointe Flex dancer, first started taking adult jazz classes at the studio two years ago. She walks on a daily basis to stay active, but admits that it was dance that really helped improve her health.
“I was gaining weight and became borderline diabetic,” Ellison said. “The walking just wasn’t enough. In my two years I have lost weight and I’ve been taken off the medication. So far I’m at 20 pounds, but I’m still working on it.”
Although results from a National Dance Education Organization study show that the arts improve school climate and actively challenge students, approximately 57 percent of American children receive no training in dance education. The same study revealed that at-risk children with lower socioeconomic statuses benefit from art-rich experiences, exhibiting higher grades and greater chances to graduate from high school and further their education.
Almost 20 percent of the East Germantown population lives below the poverty line, according to economic data from the latest census. As a dance studio in the neighborhood, Pointe Flex serves as a great resource for the community.
Ellistine Solomon, Yvette’s mother, has watched Pointe Flex from the beginning and admired it’s growth from the small two student dance class to the transformation into the celebrated studio that it is today. For her, the dance studio is a way to give back to the community by providing activity for the youth.
“I’m here to support my daughter because she has a positive goal,” said Ellistine. “I see it as something that’s positive for the children because it’s so much negativity out here. And I feel as though it’s a positive thing to use their talents to explore things, to be able to travel, see other places, see how other people live and the opportunity to do something that’s good in their life instead of negative.”
Nicole Sewell, vice president of the studio’s traveling dance troupe, is also the mother of one the dancers. Her 6 years old daughter has been dancing at Pointe Flex since she was 18 months old. As a devoted parent, Sewell is adamant about doing any and everything she can to support her child.
“It’s something she wants to do and she’s really into it, so instead of being a dead-beat you parent, you get involved,” Sewell explained. “People always complain about this not getting done, and this not getting done. The only way to get it done is to get involved.”
As Pointe Flex enters their 19th season, they are preparing for their next show in June. While they are excited for the upcoming summer recital, Solomon and her team are constantly anticipating the future of Pointe Flex.
What’s next on the agenda? More space.
“I have to move into a bigger space,” said Solomon. “We obviously outgrew this space. We came from a smaller store front, so it was kind of like ‘this seems so big’ when we first got here. I would really like to have a bigger space so I can have more smaller class sizes.”
– Text and images by Imani Abdus-Saboor and Charles E. Watson