Northwest: Mental and Physical Wellness Merge at Manayunk Studio

Dance can be as intimidating as it is compelling. Dance-related reality TV shows including, So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars depict the art form as an arena for experts in which participants are highly trained, naturally gifted prodigies or both.

One block above Main Street in Manayunk, at Merge Dance Studio, artistic director Christa Campbell is democratizing dance.

“In dance class, as in life, it is important to be able to work with everyone regardless of age, gender, or ability level,” explained Campbell.

Rather than pushing for an elite client base, Merge serves students as young as two through adulthood, with the goal of providing, “a fun and encouraging learning environment where everyone feels comfortable coming to take a dance and/or dance fitness class” at affordable rates.

A young breakdancer works on a “freeze” at a recent Merge Dance Studio style workshop.

Campbell feels strongly that dance is an important component to a healthy mind and body, citing benefits including improved confidence and physique, sharpened memory and coordination and emotional wellness. The studio has also served as a hub for community since opening its doors in 2012.

“Group dance and dance fitness classes are also a great time for socializing and meeting new people,” Campbell said.

Loyal student and member of the semi-professional Merge Dance Company, Elisabeth Gaffney, wholeheartedly agreed.

“We are brought together over a common interest in dance and fitness and learn from each other,” she said. “The studio gives us an outlet, not only physically but socially and emotionally as well. I have made friends that I will stay connected with for years to come.”

Chris Torchia demonstrates a “freeze” during a recent breakdance workshop at Merge Dance Studio.

Merge regularly offers ballet, hip hop, tap, jazz, and modern/contemporary dance lessons, as well as a range of trendy fitness classes including Piloxing, Zumba and BARRE Fusion. The studio also facilitates style-specific workshops for current students as well as non-enrolled community members to try out genres not available on the regular roster. Merge recently invited students aged six and up to participate in a break dance intensive with guest instructor Chris Torchia.

From organizing flash mobs for the Manayunk Arts Festival to facilitating open workshops, Campbell’s passionate commitment to making dance accessible is clear.

“It is a powerful tool for both children and adults,” she said. “This is why it is important to have a space where everyone can come and experience the benefits and joy of dance!”

– Text and images by Tori Marchiony and Alison Vayne.

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