Let’sdance Teachers’ new Mt. Pleasant studio latest in changing scene

Stephen Gabriel (left) and Jonathan Tabbert, formerly with the Charleston Ballet Theatre, are forming a dance studio in Mount Pleasant. The opening in the wall of the studio (under construction) will allow parents to watch their children in class.

In a sign that dance in Charleston is expanding and diversifying, a new studio is set to open in Mount Pleasant, run by two teacher-choreographers who played a central role at the Charleston Ballet Theatre until they left in June.

Jonathan Tabbert and Stephen Gabriel are overseeing final preparations at their Charleston Dance Institute, 494 Wando Park Blvd., before classes begin in September. The dance institute will offer ballet classes at all levels as well as sessions in pointe, jazz and contemporary dance.

Drawing on their experience at CBT and elsewhere, Tabbert and Gabriel also will start two student performance companies, Charleston Youth Ballet and Charleston Broadway Dance Ensemble.

They said they plan to take advantage of connections in the world of dance to invite guest dancers, teachers and choreographers to town for master classes and other learning opportunities.

“It’s something we love,” Tabbert said of teaching. “We discovered we had a passion for it.”

In recent years, parents have encouraged the pair to start a dance school, he said. A few local supporters already are helping to raise money, some of which will be used for scholarships.

The new studio opens during a moment of uncertainty for Charleston Ballet, which recently re-established and restructured its board of directors after a mass defection.

Last summer, the ballet’s board began to question an improper use of third-party choreography involving then-Ballet Master Gabriel. It also expressed concern about alleged overall financial and administrative mismanagement.

CBT has announced open registration for its own respected and popular dance school, and publicized an upcoming performance season. Contracts have been sent to nine dancers, according to Nina Sossamon-Pogue, a recent addition to the ballet’s board.

Both studios are located east of the Cooper and could draw from the same pool of current and potential students.

Sossamon-Pogue, who also serves as chairwoman of the ballet’s development committee, said the expanding dance scene is a welcome development.

“I see it as a wonderful opportunity for dance in the Charleston community,” she said, noting that the Charleston Ballet Theatre has functioned as an incubator of talent. “CBT is the cornerstone that spawns all of this. I think we’re very fortunate that it’s growing.”

Resident Choreographer Jill Eathorne-Bahr said she was proud of the ballet’s cornerstone status and pleased to see others succeed.

“It’s a feather in ballet’s hat,” she said.

Paula Engle, whose 15-year-old daughter, Grace, has long studied with Tabbert, said her family is “not so much leaving CBT as staying with Jonathan.”

She started dance lessons with Tabbert in CBT’s former James Island studio, then added private lessons to her schedule.

“She’s always responded very well to his teaching style,” Engle said, complimenting Tabbert’s technique. “He manages to get the best out of her in generous ways. ... He just really seems to click with my daughter in terms of taking his technique and explaining how she can grow from it.”

Five years ago, another studio, Dancefx Charleston, opened for business, offering classes in various styles of dance to children and adults. Dancefx is a nonprofit venture with three locations, one in Atlanta and another in Athens, Ga., that specializes in education, performance and community outreach.

Run by Executive Director Jenny Broe Price and Youth Education Director Kristen Burgsteiner, Dancefx Charleston has enlarged its reach, starting five performance companies, including the Charleston Dance Project, an innovative and collaborative venture beginning to establish a name for itself. Its 19 instructors all are working dancers.

Collaboration is something Gabriel and Tabbert hope to do a lot of, they said. The two men, who have been teaching a summer dance workshop at the Charleston County School of the Arts, plan to partner with SOA and perhaps other schools to bring dance performances to new audiences.

They are in discussions with Village Rep on Woolfe (formerly the Village Playhouse) about sharing space in the Woolfe Street Playhouse, the theater company’s new downtown warehouse location, they said.

And they are part of the Charleston Dance Alliance, which seeks to bring members of the dance community together to strengthen instruction and performance in the area.

In recent months, Gabriel, 46, and Tabbert, 30, have worked with Greg Tavares and The Have Nots! on improv that includes dance.

“Since we left (CBT), all kinds of wonderful opportunities have come up,” Tabbert said.

The new dance studio occupies a former warehouse-office space and includes two rehearsal rooms equipped with mirrors, bars, foam-insulated flooring and a special vinyl floor covering designed for satin pointe shoes.

Cindy Rauton’s 12-year-old daughter, also named Grace, has been dancing since she was 3, her mother said. Most recently, she has been enrolled in the two-week workshop taught by Tabbert and Gabriel at SOA. She likes dance enough to contemplate making some sort of career out of it.

Grace has worked previously with the two teachers, so it made sense to move her to their new studio, Rauton said.

“They bring a lot of experience with them,” she said of Tabbert and Gabriel. “They offer a variety of classes that appeal to all levels. They’re offering a little something for everyone,” including student performance companies.

Rauton said she likes that the dance scene in Charleston is expanding.

“With all the dance shows on TV, there’s a new focus on dance. It seems like a good idea to have variety of opportunities.”

At Dancefx, housed at the Coastal Community Foundation Center downtown, at Rutledge Avenue and Huger Street, director Price and dancer-instructor Stephanie Bussell said their goal is to introduce Charleston audiences to a diverse array of dance styles, especially jazz and contemporary dance, and to provide performance opportunities to dancers of all ages.

The nonprofit is sponsoring the first Charleston Dance Festival on Sept. 10-16, to include instruction, improv, student showcases, master classes and professional dance performances.

Price, who helped establish the Charleston studio in 2008 with Dancefx founder Danielle Mason Hosker, said she thought the city was an arts center that needed more contemporary dance.

Today, she is striving not only to present dance concerts with high production values but to make room for more education outreach and collaboration.

Bussell said it’s good for students and for dance itself to have multiple studios each offering learning opportunities.

“There’s no real reason to stay with one dance school,” she said. Exposure to various teachers and styles is helpful. “You’ve got to be versatile.”

Dancefx’s emphasis on “concert dance” seems to have broad appeal, Bussell and Price said. About 750 turned up for an April show; 200 attended the June 30 presentation of “Ebb & Flow” featuring the Charleston Dance Project, with live music provided by Entropy Ensemble.

It’s innovative stuff, set to improvisatory music, and includes a lot of give and take, Bussell said.

“What we’re doing is a little more current, up-to-date,” she said.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook.com/aparkerwriter.