A Typical Day at Shawl-Anderson
By Nina Haft
This article originally appeared in an abbreviated form in the October edition of InDance, a publication of Dancers' Group. Reprinted here with permission.
On a typical day at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, you might find Paufve Dance rehearsing for an upcoming tour, students cheering each other on during petite allegro or the Savage Jazz Dance Company raising the roof beams.
What looks like an ordinary house in Berkeley is, in fact, a home for dance in the East Bay where nearly 1,000 dancers come each week. The Center offers classes for all ages and levels in modern, ballet and jazz dance, with specialty classes such as Lifelong Movement for older adults and Pilates Mat. For choreographers, Shawl-Anderson offers a friendly place to find dancers, rehearsal space, and in some cases, fiscal sponsorship.
What makes Shawl-Anderson a vibrant place for dance? "The wide variety of classes, flexible teaching schedules, and affordable studios for rent pretty much any time of the day or night," according to choreographer and faculty member Randee Paufve. Others appreciate the alternative it provides to commuting to SF. "The modern classes at Shawl-Anderson are especially choreographic -as students we get more experience actually dancing," says dancer Charlotte Greenblatt, who also found Shawl-Anderson a great place to start teaching; "I knew I could ask advice of the other teachers and get great help."
What keeps Shawl-Anderson going strong after almost 50 years in business? "We stay focused on the present by always bringing in new teachers, supporting new artists and offering new classes and workshops," asserts Frank Shawl, co-director and founder with Victor Anderson, who elaborates: "We saw a need for high level training in modern dance on the west coast, and we knew this was a place where we could develop the kind of dancers we wanted for our Company." "Yes," adds Frank, "we still believe in superb technique, expressive instruments and open minds."
Frank and Victor met in New York City while dancing as members of May O'Donnell's company. Having enjoyed successful dance careers in the worlds of ballet, modern dance and the entertainment industry, the duo co-founded their school in 1958, and launched the internationally acclaimed Shawl-Anderson Dance Company a few years later.
"History happens," Frank states modestly. "Charles Weidman taught the first class in the building, before the floors were even finished." Jose Limon, Alwin Nikolais, Bella Lewitsky, Louis Falco, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham are just some of the distinguished artists who have come by to teach master classes, meet local dancers, rehearse or simply to say hello. "Each one gave us their blessing," says Victor.
History becomes the future at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center; "Because of receiving such great mentorship from May," explains Frank, "we know what the older generation can offer to younger dancers. Moral support and encouragement helps an artist to go for it! We were able to take really scary steps, like buying our building, with that kind of encouragement. As May used to say, "It's the work that counts." Well, we built this place around our pure love of dance. Panicking or forcing things never really works. Relaxing and trusting helps move things forward, just like in movement itself."
Frank and Victor see their center growing someday to include a performing space, rounding out their vision of an East Bay facility dedicated entirely to dance, "so that scrounging for space is a thing of the past."