BRATTLEBORO—The Brattleboro School of Dance has a new owner, and she spent her first days there as a toddler.
“I started dance classes at the school when I was two or three years old,” said Bridget Struthers, who assumed ownership in mid-January.
“I grew up dancing there, so it feels somewhat natural,” Struthers said. “But when I think about it, it’s a big deal!”
Struthers, who is in her early 30s, noted one or two of her childhood dance teachers are still there.
Founded in 1976 by Kathleen Keller, the school changed ownership in 2012, when Jennifer Moyse bought it.
Struthers, a Putney native, was living in New York City when she received a phone call late last year from Moyse, “a total stranger to me,” she said. “She heard from Kathy [Keller] that I was considering a move back to Vermont at some point.”
“At first, I was, like, absolutely not! That would be the most ridiculous thing!” she said.
When Moyse called, Struthers was “grappling with a lot of changes and desires,” she said. She had started her own dance company — Bridge and Olive Dance — with a colleague in 2012. She graduated from New York University with a Masters in Fine Arts in 2016, she said, and was “thrown into the job market.”
’A hard decision’
Picking up and moving back home to take over a dance school “was a hard decision,” Struthers said. “I was beginning to thrive as a choreographer in New York City, and making strides with my dance company. It was hard to put that on hold.”
But after talking with friends and her partner about Moyse’s offer, Struthers began considering it.
“I looked at the big picture of my life, and this was the obvious choice,” she said. “Now I have the structure and resources to do the programs and performances I’ve wanted to do.”
But, Struthers admits, “it’s the scariest thing” owning a business. “But, I have advisors, mentors, and an awesome office manager,” she said.
Dance has been a part of Struthers’s life for as long as she can remember. “I was dancing around when I was two or three,” she said. “I would jump off my brother’s changing table and do flips onto my bed. I was crazy!”
She stuck with dance throughout her adolescence, which, she said, “really helped me as a teenager.”
“High school was a really rough time, and dance was a guiding force,” Struthers said. “It was a physical and expressive outlet to deal with emotions you don’t know how to deal with. … With the teachers and my friends there, it was a good community to be part of.”
Now, Struthers wants to find ways to bring the dance school into the greater community, even among those who don’t consider themselves typical dance-school material.
“Dance can be so specialized it can alienate people,” she said — and that includes the audience,and participants, such as “people who want to get into it later in life.”
“I want to open it up and let it breathe a little bit, without taking away from what’s already there,” she said.
Her plans, are “to keep [the school] familiar with the core values of being a good, quality place for dance,” she said, but, “the dance world is changing.”
The traditional boundaries separating different styles of dance — ballet, hip-hop, modern, etc. — are disappearing, Struthers said. And she wants to respond to that, and to participate in it.
“We’re taking baby steps, like hosting an improv jam series with live music, where the players jam and people can move around however they want,” Struthers said, noting “this is not Contact Improv. … Lots of families and older people come. Anyone can just come. No one’s really looking at you, so you can have fun,” she said.
The dance school is collaborating with local and statewide entities, including Sobo Studio, the Marlboro College dance department, and the Vermont Dance Alliance. This may take shape in the summer, with a series of events Struthers is planning for the school.
“We’ll have independent artists, New York City dancers, performances, and week-long workshops,” she said, and noted that plans are still in the early stages.
Coming sooner is the dance school’s spring show.
“The theme is literary,” Struthers said, “and we’re drawing inspiration from poetry, newspapers, and literature. We’re working with people in other disciplines, like writing.”
Bringing dance into the community “is more than just placing yourself in the community,” Struthers said. “It’s working to open up the conversation a little bit. … I want to engage with [the public] in a fresh and surprising way.”
“I’m a real dance nerd, and I like to think about dance from many aspects — anatomy and physiology, history, pedagogy,” and others, she said. “This is so fun! It’s my dream, to think about dance all day. There are other things I don’t like as much — payroll, taxes — but it’s for a good cause.”