Spinning. Twirling. Jumping. Little visions in pink tights, tutus and ballet slippers, soon to be changed for tap shoes, giggling their way through dance lessons.
They’re 3, 4 and 5 years old, these Shelter Island girls, and clearly having so much fun being taught by Ashley Knight in St. Mary’s Parish Hall that they’re oblivious to visitors watching them working their way through routines.
The Wednesday afternoon classes at the church are an extension of the Greenport MainStage Dance Academy started eight years ago by former Radio City Music Hall Rockette Lucille Naar-Saladino. It was her desire to share her love of dance with children and adults that inspired her to form the academy when she moved to the East End.
What she hadn’t envisioned was a “baby dance class” on the Island.
But that’s exactly what happened when she approached Father Charles McCarron about using the space one afternoon a week. There are eight girls currently signed up for the class. The program is also open to boys and Ms. Naar-Saladino and Ms. Knight expect to see some of them in the near future.
The young dancers arrive promptly at 3:45 p.m. for their 45-minute workout with Ms. Knight.
Why Shelter Island? Ms. Naar-Saladino knew the place from teaching classes at Camp Quinipet and last summer as a volunteer at Camp Adventure, the one-week program on the Quinipet grounds for children with cancer and their siblings.
“I loved it,” Ms. Naar-Saladino said about her volunteer experience and plans to return again this summer.
As for Ms. Knight, she’s well-known to Islanders as the owner of the Islander restaurant. But before she thought about the restaurant business, dancing captured her attention. “Dance is a passion of mine,” Ms. Knight said, learning the art when she was just 3 and holding a degree in dance from Virginia’s James Madison University.
She first began teaching classes on the North Fork for Ms. Naar-Saladino and when the idea of a baby class on the Island surfaced, it was a natural fit, she said.
It’s a labor of love, working with the young children as they explore the basics of coordination and dance, she said, adding that it’s “all about keeping it fun.”
According to the Child Development Institute, there are several benefits for young children who attend dance classes, including learning to follow instructions, gaining a sense of discipline and confidence, learning coordination, balance and controlling their bodies and getting daily exercise.
The young dancers learn first and second ballet positions, basic tap and pas de bourrée, a French folk dance involving rapid foot movements, Ms. Knight said.
The students learn to stretch their bodies with simple exercises, pretending they’re making pizzas, tossing an imaginary crust in the air and then adding ingredients of their choice to the rolled-out imaginary dough — everything from jelly beans to fruit.
When Ms. Knight tells them she’s adding broccoli to her pizza, it elicits a groans from her charges.
Extending their arms and hopping over a stuffed snake teaches the basics of ballet, even though they’re still too young to master sophisticated jumps.
Parents pay $51 a month for the weekly lessons and a one-time registration fee of $30. If they elect to participate with older students from classes on the North Fork in a recital in June in Greenport, they’ll be responsible for the cost of their costumes.
Parents interested in enrolling their children in the class can reach Ms. Naar-Saladino at 477-1380.
Editor’s Note: In a former post, since taken down, Eliza McCarthy was misidentified. The Reporter’s print issue, published Thursday, January 28, had the same error. The Reporter apologizes for the mistake.