Organization: Rebecca Kelly Ballet Studio
Arrival on SoHo Broadway: Summer, 1974
Address: 579 Broadway
What brought you to SoHo Broadway? What do you do here?
I came to NYC to dance. After living for one year in a tiny apartment on West 13th in the Village, studying dance with Merce Cunningham and Charles Weidman (!), I realized I needed SPACE. I went exploring, and eventually ended up crossing Houston at Broadway and arrived at FOOD on Prince Street. There was a small sign on the bulletin board “loft space for rent.” I don’t think I understood what a loft was back then. So I went to look with my roommate at the time. The 4th-floor walk up was 23′ x 100′ with beautiful high tin ceilings. It was in derelict condition, but it seemed to me we could convert the empty factory space, which was the finishing floor of a woodworking enterprise, into a live/work home and dance studio. I bought Reader’s Digest How to Build a Home, assured my roommate that together with two other like-minded dancers we could do this.
Today, my husband Craig and I still live and work at the same loft. I continue to create ballets for Rebecca Kelly Ballet, and for other projects. I teach classes and private lessons during the school year to students of dance who are between the ages of 10-16 years.
What do you like about SoHo Broadway?
In those early days, I loved the emptiness. There were other artists – painters, dancers, musicians, and there were some unique and useful stores, but there were no crowds, no traffic, empty street corners. Sometimes you’d hear wonderful street musicians or the clip-clop of a mounted policeman riding south to the stables in Tribeca.
It was a great place to develop our art. I married Craig, also a dancer. We called our space Appleby Studio Theater. In addition to rehearsal space, we used the studio for dance performance space, and also as a Salon where we hosted other arts events including theater, art, music. We used to have drumming and dancing parties. Everyone in the building from the 70’s to the 90’s were artists. It was a vibrant, coming of age time.
What do we like now? SoHo is still a vibrant, humming diverse place, unlike any other. Sometimes you hear, while waiting on a crowded street corner, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Swedish….almost any language BUT English. I like that. (I was raised in England and in the Sudan.)
What is your favorite SoHo Broadway memory or experience?
We miss some of the unique stores that lined Broadway. You could purchase anything you needed, and many things you didn’t need but were so enticing, from the array of import shops, stationers, sheets and bedding store, Broadway Panhandler, Lechters. The Nature Store (where Pink is now) was a beautiful environment with a great world music cd collection, waterfalls and the sounds of birds. Wandering in there was almost like visiting an indoor park.
Grilling fresh fish from the Fulton Market in a hibachi on our roof. Dining al fresco and entertaining friends on the roof, gardening on the roof. Photo shoots with RKB dancers on the roof. But for the last decade or so – access to the roof is entirely forbidden and the door has long been locked and alarmed.
If you had 20 minutes, where would you go?
On a walkabout in lower Manhattan – to a parklet nearby, or to visit the latest construction project and see the progress, or zip into one of our favorite “happy hour” spots.
What should we know about you outside of working/living here?
During the summers we spend time in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. People say, “I hope you have a relaxing summer.” But in reality, the summer period has become the most strenuous season of all, packed with many programs that we have developed over the past 35 years.
As SoHo has become increasingly crowded and materialistic, we’ve cherished the summer’s complete change of scene. RKB is known for its collection of ballets that take the environment as its theme, several of which have been documented by PBS Mountain Lakes, including ones that look at our vanishing wildernesses, habitat loss, acid rain, floods, and boundaries.
Adirondacks is where we produce the Onstage Performance Camp in Lake Placid – a 36-year old summer dance intensive (camp) that has reached thousands of young people over the years. I also teach a summer Choreography Workshop in Plattsburgh.
Craig and I also run the Tahawus Cultural Center in Au Sable Forks which houses a dance studio and art gallery and gathering space. Here we develop programs including a STEM Summer Lab for youth, music events, a cultural film series, symposia on women and environment issues, a dance program, and various art exhibits. The building was in poor condition when Appleby Foundation acquired it, so restoration has been energetic, continuous and costly, but the progress and the programs are rewarding to us and to the rural community we serve.
Whether it is the natural world or our complicated human world and topical issues such as refugees, alcoholism, desire, the aim is to beguile and intrigue our audiences with beauty and the extraordinary grace and athleticism of our dancers, to inspire a can-do attitude to learning, and to share what we have learned with the next generations of dancers and creative minds.
What do you do for fun or are you looking forward to doing?
Life is fun – and risky. We pretty much look forward to each day.