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South Shore Dance Alliance moves from Miller to Griffith

Chandler Stewart 14 Imani Dix13 rehearse South Shore Dance Alliance Wirt-EmersVisual Performing Arts Academy Gary Thursday afternoon. The South Shore

Chandler Stewart, 14 and Imani Dixon, 13 rehearse at the South Shore Dance Alliance at the Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy in Gary Thursday afternoon. The South Shore Dance Alliance is moving from Emerson to the former Franklin Elementary School in Griffith. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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The South Shore Dance Alliance, in the Franklin Center at 201 N. Broad St., will host an open house for its new dance studio from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. For class schedules, fees and more information, log on to southshoredance.org or call 427-0188.

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Updated: October 4, 2012 6:09AM



GRIFFITH — South Shore Dance Alliance creative director Larry Brewer made one final phone call to his landlord to see if there was any chance to stay in the former Miller School, the dance company’s home since November 2008, before signing a new lease to relocate to Franklin Center.

Even after having two sound systems stolen, its two major bank accounts almost looted and having to pay for repairs to the building that weren’t a tenant’s responsibility, Brewer struggled with second thoughts. Miller School, on Lake Street in Gary, reminded him so much of his own days of studying dance that wanted every one of students to experience the grittiness and raw energy.

“It reminds me of those old, musty buildings in New York City I studied in in 1977, the ones with no air conditioning. We were making things happen there,” Brewer said. “In a way, it pains me to be moving.”

But any lingering sadness Brewer had was quickly eradicated by the town of Griffith, which he said has been more than accommodating in the school’s move to a new home. And now, he hopes the new location,which officially opens Sept. 10, will open up many more children to the fun and wonder of dance.

“Griffith’s like, ‘What can we do? We’ll do it exactly the way you need it.’ That’s what sealed the deal,” he said. “I’m definitely not accustomed to the amount of help they’re giving.”

Ultimately, the thefts and repairs weren’t even what drove the not-for-profit South Shore Dance Alliance out of Miller. Rather it was a newly formed private school that was supposed to move into the building, Brewer said. When he was notified, he and his board members started looking at different places in Gary’s Miller neighborhood but could find nothing that would suit them long-term.

“We liked being in Miller,” said Brewer, who is also the dance instructor for the Gary Community School Corp.’s Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts. “A lot of our kids live in the city, so it was convenient for them to get here.”

Enter Brewer’s wife and SSDA board member Nancy Kemp Brewer, a lifelong Griffith resident, who counts Laura Gaby, the wife of Griffith Town Council president Glen Gaby, among her oldest and dearest friends. The issue of South Shore Dance Alliance having to move came up in conversation, and the Gabys knew of a suitable place: Franklin Center, a former elementary school that houses the YMCA and a few other smaller entities.

Talks began, but what really sealed the deal, at least in Brewer’s mind, was a performance SSDA hosted in July for representatives of the National Endowment for the Arts. Brewer invited Glen Gaby to attend and, according to Brewer, he liked what he saw.

The SSDA’s new home office takes up two studios and an office, but there are options for more space depending on how enrollment increases and grant opportunities pan out, Brewer said. As far as enrollment is concerned, Brewer hopes the more central location will draw more students.

“Miller was too far away, so now, kids from, say, East Chicago and Hammond will have easier access,” he said. “There’ll be a lot more people to pull from.”

And while dance is Brewer’s first mission for SSDA, the company had started offering acting, piano and voice lessons at Miller School and intends on adding those options as enrollment grows.

“When kids get ready to attend IU’s performing arts school or wherever, they can have good grades, but what they really need is a portfolio,” he said. “We want to have the solid base and put them in a place where they can succeed.”

South Shore Dance Alliance board member Anna Toledo, of Griffith, whose daughters Jesse and Maggie attend, thinks SSDA will be a great fit for the town and vice versa.

“Part of South Shore’s vision is that the talent showcased be representative of Northwest Indiana,” she said. “Griffith is very centrally located and accessible to that region, not to mention, the town itself has an enthusiasm for the arts — with events like Park Full of Art, Rock ’n’ Rail Fest and regular music nights in the park.

“It’s an exciting time, having something we are passionate about become a part of our community.”



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