A Culture of Kindness (edited from River Journal)
Aside from teaching classes in ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and musical theater, and overseeing the school’s numerous performing companies, Press, who has lived in Irvington since January, works hard on the overall ethic and atmosphere of SHPAC. “There’s a culture of kindness among us. We don’t allow any mean behavior among our young artists here. They all have to accept everyone and work together as a group,” she said. “Meanness is an issue that we work really hard with and magical things happen.:
Daisy Gumin, says: “I love how everybody is nice to everybody else here,” she said. “It changed me. I used to be not as open—I’d be scared to sing a song—and this brought me out of my box. Now I’m more open to meeting different people and more comfortable as myself.”
Jarette Seligman, remembers being a mouse in “The Nutcracker” when she was 5. “I watched the big girls and wanted to do everything they did,” she said. “Something Debralyn teaches us is that, no matter how small your part is, the more you act it, the better it will be,” she said.
Sophia Harris, agreed. “In the last show, I had a tiny part—only one line in the whole show—but here, even though you have a small part, it will be amazing,” she said. “Whatever you do, it’s extremely fun, because all the other actors are so great and it’s so fun being with them and dancing with them!”
Irvington Education Foundation
IEF Dance Contest a Winner from Step One
By Colleen Michele Jones
Call it Dancing 101, but this time it’s the students—not the teachers—who are at the head of the class.
Debralyn Press, a professional dancer who runs Sleepy Hollow Performing Arts Center, has many dance students who attend the Irvington schools. So when Press agreed to be the show’s artistic director, she turned to her own students to help choreograph it.
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Giving Something Back
Giving Something Back Irvington High School students Kayla Frimer, a junior, and Katie Ferguson, a senior, have benefited from the increased responsibility that is part of the SHPAC experience. Both have taught dance classes and taken a leadership role in choreographing and directing. In the current production, Frimer plays the evil Mouse Queen, belting out a bluesy number complete with jazzy choreography.
Ferguson, who is portraying the Sugar Plum Fairy and on of the Star Dolls, is contemplating her high school graduation this spring with mixed feeling. “In some ways, I’m so ready to go to college,” she said, “but this place has been my life for as long as I can remember and it’s going to be really, really weird to leave it. Everyone here has backed me on everything and supported and pushed me to be the best I can be. Debralyn is like my second mom, and one of the best parts of growing up is having her listen to you and respect your opinions. It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of fun.”
SHPAC’s mission goes beyond establishing a self-contained community of artists and extends to providing scholarship assistance and sending groups to perform frequently at local schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and shelters as well as at street fairs and festivals. “Our community service aspect allows children to have more opportunities to perform, while it also involves the community and spreads a lot of joy and happiness,” Press said.
And speaking of joy and happiness, she anticipates plenty at this weekend’s performances of “Nutcracker Now 2008” which she described as “a happy, upbeat, exciting show with some beautiful ballet and a lot more.”
A Child of the Community
The Hudson Independent by Wayne Coffey
A Child of the Community Senior Ronnie Bencosme earns recognition as a 3-sport athlete and professional dancer
“He is an amazing athlete who can do anything and go anywhere,” said Debralyn Press, founder of the Sleepy Hollow Performing Arts Center, where Bencosme began dancing six years ago. It is a few pirouettes from the apartment Bencosme shares with his mother, Tara, and two of his brothers.
A Sleepy Hollow co-captain who was the runner-up in Section I last year, Bencosme wrestles at 145 pounds – 30 pounds lighter than he weighed when he captained the school’s football team playing fullback/defensive back, and a lot lighter than he’ll be when he leads the Sleepy Hollow lacrosse team this spring.
“It’s no big deal. Your body adjusts,” Bencosme said, He is propped, sweating heavily, against a wall in the wrestling room, talking about his plans to study business in college and one day open a dance studio of his own. When asked why he is so passionate about dance, Bencosme replied, “It makes me feel right.”
“If you would’ve told me the first day I went down there that I was going to wind up being a ballet dancer, I never would’ve believed you,” Bencosme said.
According to Press, “He’s good enough that when he performs, people come up to me and say, ‘This kid should be dancing with Alvin Ailey.’”
Dancing has literally taken Bencosme all over the world. There was a summer trip to Italy four years ago, and he’s performed with Rockland Express at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. He has danced on television and been a back-up dancer for several hip-hop artists at concerts, earning $200 per show, $75 for rehearsals.
With his mother on disability with a back condition, and his father in the Dominican Republic with little contact with the family, money is always an issue. Press gives Bencosme an annual scholarship to the center, and he works in a number of capacities there, his pay helps support his family.
This native son of the community, whom Press referred to as “a special, special kid,” has seen friends get in trouble with the law, and lives adrift with no real purpose. He considers himself fortunate not to be among them, and has his feet planted firmly on the ground, even as he continues to soar.