We asked our Hurleyville experts, Main Street Dance, to weigh in.
By Bridge Morris
Hurleyville isn’t exactly a sports destination. The long winter makes the new basketball and pickleball courts unplayable, and Fallsburg High School, though proudly our home team, is a bit more than a stone’s throw away. But a townsperson recently pointed out to our sports editor that there are athletes right down the street, practicing and conditioning every single week in Hurleyville.
Main Street Dance, the company housed at the Hurleyville Arts Centre, is comprised of male and female dancers of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. Each week, parents bring their children to the state-of-the-art facility, watching through the glass as ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and lyrical styles are taught by owner/operator Ms. Sherma Williams and her staff. Many of Ms. Williams’ instructors are former students themselves who continued with their love of dance after their formative years and now pay it forward by teaching the youth of Sullivan County. An arts school in its own right, Main Street Dance has been tremendously successful since its move from Liberty to Hurleyville in fostering a love of dance in the hearts of young people, but it’s the teenagers that are taking it to a whole new level.
People had been buzzing about an upcoming Tri-Valley girls’ basketball game at SUNY Sullivan on Feb. 4, not only to see the Lady Bears dominate the team from Chester, but because Main Street Dance, in collaboration with some of Monticello High School’s dancers, would be putting on a show-stopping halftime performance.
It surely was a spectacular show. An astonishing 24 dancers, all teen and college-aged, took the court to perform a highly energized and skilled hip-hop routine inspired by The Royal Family, a world-renowned dance crew with a routine that went viral. Main Street Dance performed it flawlessly, and the crowd at SUNY Sullivan went wild as they exited the floor, each dancer beaming with pride and adrenaline.
Watching the crew perform, it was obvious that a level of athleticism certainly went into pulling off such a physically demanding performance, but we thought it best to ask the dancers themselves the controversial question – is dance a sport?
Ms. Julia Leland of Tri-Valley has been dancing with Main Street since she was 4 years old and considers her fellow dancers to be some of her best friends. When talking about dance as a sport, she admitted that she’s had arguments with people in school who dismissed the idea, but the comparisons are obvious.
“You’re competing the same way athletes do,” Ms. Leland said. “Dance is just like any sport where you need to keep training to get better, and you’re a part of a team where if one person messes up, it affects the whole group.”
Ms. Jahda Williams, one of the leaders at Main Street Dance and daughter of owner Ms. Sherma Williams, gave her take on the question and provided some background on the big dance.
“We work just as hard as athletes do, and it takes physical ability to be able to dance for long periods of time,” Ms. Jahda Williams said. “This dance alone took six practices to pull off, and it wasn’t easy to learn, but we did it.”
The idea for the small dance company to attempt such a difficult and well-known routine came at the suggestion of Ms. Ashley Imperato, a longtime member and now choreographer at Main Street Dance.
“Ashley had this idea to try The Royal Family’s routine because of how good our dancers are, and she choreographed the whole thing in four days,” said Ms. Kristie Wallgren, another choreographer for Main Street Dance who has been with the company for 20 years. “The group learned it in just six practices, and it turned out amazing.”
Ms. Wallgren, one of Main Street’s veteran dancers, also offered her much-valued opinion on dance as a sport.
“It is similar to a sport to the fullest extent,” she said, passionate as she looked around at her younger dancers with pride. “No one understands the cardio that goes into it and the bruises you end up with from working your body so hard. It works your arms, legs and abs, and you need rhythm to be able to keep up and perform properly.”
Ms. Kyaza Turane, a senior at Monticello High who has been dancing with Main Street since she was three years old, expanded on Ms. Wallgren’s sentiments.
“It’s even more difficult than other sports at times because in ensembles, we don’t get one star player who can save the performance,” Ms. Turane said. “We all have to perform at the highest level for it to work.”
Ms. Turane shared that she suffers from severe asthma and that at times she’s had to work harder than other girls because of it, but she said that dancers never let their audiences see them sweat, so to speak.
“People think dance isn’t a sport or that difficult because after they see our routines, they say it looks easy,” she added. “They don’t understand that’s the point. If we make the routine look easy as dancers, then we’ve done our job correctly.”
When speaking to the mastermind behind the incredible performance, Ms. Imperato, she was very modest in her achievement at successfully choreographing a full crew of 24 dancers in such a hard routine. She began her training with Ms. Williams at age 4 and has stayed with Main Street Dance ever since, eventually student teaching and now choreographing and teaching classes of her own. Her passion for dance is tangible, but she admitted that coming from Fallsburg High School, dance wasn’t always easily accepted and understood.
“When I tried to get dance into Fallsburg a few years ago, we were looked down upon by a lot of people,” Ms. Imperato said. “They didn’t take dance seriously.”
Luckily, that attitude is changing little by little, and it’s likely because people are starting to realize the level of athleticism and dedication that goes into dance, especially routines like the one Ms. Imperato choreographed.
“It’s something that hadn’t been done by many non-professional dance crews before, but I believed in our dancers and wanted to see if we could do it,” Ms. Imperato said, still beaming with the satisfaction of having pulled it off. “We’ve never done something so big before in such a short period of time, and the fact that we nailed it means we can do anything.”
But when asked the age-old question, is dance a sport, the veteran dancer gave quite a unique perspective on the topic.
“I don’t think dance is a sport, actually,” she said. “Dance is an art, and that should never be mistaken, but I do believe dancers are athletes.”
Although no definitive answer came from the group, the fact remains that dancers are athletes in all definitions of the word, and that they should be respected as such for their physical abilities and dedication to their work. But one way dance is more like a sport than anything else is in the teamwork and sense of camaraderie that’s involved, something each girl went out of her way to mention.
“More than anything, Main Street Dance is a family to me,” said Ms. Rachel Collura, a junior at Fallsburg and dancer since age 5. “I am closer to these girls than anyone else, and I’d dance with them anywhere.”
Main Street Dance hopes to perform its stunning hip-hop routine at more pep rallies across the county and at its annual recital in June. Check them out at any time practicing at the Hurleyville Arts Centre!