AbunDance Academy: Nurturing Talent

(Photo courtesy of AbunDance Academy)

AbunDance Academy of the Arts, a well-known storefront-style dance studio in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, that teaches children, adults and even seniors everything from ballet to jazz to Zumba, is bracing itself for a big change.

Just a few months ahead of its fourth anniversary dance showcase, this Brooklyn arts organization learned that the rent for its studio space on Rogers Avenue would double to as much as $5,000 when its lease expired in March.

Additionally, the organization says, the building’s owner imposed “extreme and unreasonable” operational restrictions in the proposed renewal lease, such as prohibiting live drumming. Soon, passers-by will be unable to look through the studio’s windows and see future performers in the making because AbunDance Academy of the Arts has to move.

But founder and artistic director Karisma Jay vows to keep the studio going – hopefully in another equally attractive location. To make that happen, she launched a GoFundMe campaign on March 30 with a $50,000 goal. As the organization works toward that goal, several neighboring businesses, including Kiddie Science, Diane’s Event Space and Tickles Daycare are serving as temporary places for weekly classes.

“All of this was rather sudden and emotional, but it’s another way to motivate us and show others why we need to be here,” said Jay.

The money will help secure a new studio space and outfit it with necessities including soundproofing, ballet barres and hardwood floors, so that Jay and the organization’s seven instructors may continue teaching.

“There is so much raw talent in the world that isn’t being developed solely because of the fact that education in these art forms is so costly,” she said.

Following recent reports of President Trump’s plans to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, Jay says her mission of making the arts accessible to people of all economic backgrounds is more important than ever. “There is an art to everything and I want to show everyone why we need the arts so badly,” she said.

On June 25, the organization will present as its annual dance showcase a stage adaptation of the classic musical comedy “Sister Act.” In addition to dancing and acting, the show will feature singing by students and senior citizens from two area centers who take classes at AbunDance thanks to an arts grant awarded by the city.

In previous years, the talented students have used dance, song and theater to address key moments in history through a showcase called “Civil Right?” as well as performed adaptations of “Annie” and  “The Wiz.”

The desire to make arts education more accessible to people in Brooklyn is what motivated the dancer and actress to start AbunDance Academy of the Arts in March of 2013.

The organization offers its arts and cultural programming at a low cost for students from ages 2 to 92. The variety of classes also includes tap, hip-hop and African dance offered seven days a week for no more than $15 per class. Acting, vocal and gymnastics classes are added on a seasonal basis so students are exposed to the many facets of the arts.

“I wanted the school to be a place where the focus is on developing students’ innate gifts without it being a financial strain for their families,” Jay said.

AbunDance offers a sliding scale of fees based on ability to pay, as well as some full scholarships. The arts organization also offers programs specifically for boys. Reasonably priced monthly packages of classes are also available and more than 100 students are trained annually.

For Worine Spellman, the affordable prices and variety of classes, including gymnastics, vocal training and acting, made AbunDance the right place to send her 10-year-old daughter Akelah.

“We looked into different theater companies, dance companies and the prices alone were kind of scary… $3,000 for five weeks, that’s a lot of money… Being able to come upon AbunDance and it be in our price range was perfect. Everything just fell into place,” she said.

What has kept them coming back over the last 10 months is that this creative outlet has also helped Akelah develop her leadership skills, become more confident and overcome anxiety issues she was facing at school.

Other parents like Sirlenda Maxwell agree. “I think she [Karisma Jay] is doing an awesome job. She has instilled so many life skills into these girls and especially in Brooke-Lynn.”

Brooke-Lynn Williams is Maxwell’s 8-year-old daughter, and was a student of Jay’s even before AbunDance Academy of the Arts opened in 2013.

“I like coming here because I like dancing and Ms. Karisma teaches me new dance steps that I don’t know… I practice my steps over and over until I get them right and I love it,” Williams said.

Many of the students and parents who come to AbunDance Academy of the Arts say it feels like family because of how supportive this dance community is of each student’s goals in the arts and beyond. Through training in the arts, they say this organization also shows them how to be successful in life.

“Access to success, that’s the main mission. Access to the success that you envision for yourself and accessing your own abundance and being darn good at it! That’s what we do here at AbunDance,” Jay said with a smile.

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