Dance

Freestyle with Family: Everett provides a nurturing environment to aspiring dancers

Everett performers. Photo provided by Laisha Crum.

When I first saw Everett- a venue situated 50 or 60 feet back from Duncan Ave, a residential street in the Mount Hope neighborhood of PVD, obscured by another building- I felt as though I had stumbled upon a hidden community treasure, and that perhaps I was the first to find it. 

As it turned out, I was half right. Everett- a nonprofit dance company, stage and school founded in ‘86- is certainly a community treasure, though I was far from the first to find it. When I approached the building I was immediately welcomed inside, invited to a hip-hop dance showcase the following weekend, attended that and came back later to talk with some of the inspiring performers. 

Laisha Crum, now a member of Everett’s board and a dance instructor, started coming to Everett when she was 13. “I was looking for dance classes with my cousin,” she shared. Over the 28 years since then, Crum became a student, got an opportunity as an assistant teacher, then teacher, company performer, then board member. 

“When I first started coming, I was shy. I was in a shell,” Crum recalls. “I was surprised to be into dancing. I’ve grown to express myself more.”

Another performer, Erickson Fernandez, gave a similar story. “It’s not whether you’re the best at it, it’s how you do it,” Fernandez said. “I’ve become more confident, and more comfortable being uncomfortable. This changed how I view myself as an artist.” 

This was a motif I would hear through all of the performers’ experiences- most started out shy, gave dance a try, then grew into a more confident version of themselves. This was certainly evident in the story of Joseph Henderson, whose first experience at Everett as a second grader inspired him to pursue dance. Unfortunately, an embarrassing performance in the eighth grade almost turned him away from the art completely; luckily, he had several role models and mentors that pushed him back to performing, including his mother. 

Henderson, now 29, is an instructor and mentor to others at Everett. When reflecting on his journey, he shared: “A lot of students leave with this feeling of family. I learned I am capable of creating family.” 

According to their mission, Everett’s “ensemble of artists create, perform, teach and mentor new generations of artists within a diverse community.” It goes on to say that “At the heart of the organization is the belief that the arts can transform lives across cultures, generations, and economic backgrounds, and create a more just, equitable and joyous future.” Everett’s dance school has a myriad of offerings for dancers of all skill levels. 

Istifaa Ahmed, an Everett performer and an American Studies PhD candidate at Brown University, finds the family-like environment of Everett a breath of fresh air from the cutthroat nature of academia. “To maintain my sanity, I had to surround myself with a community committed to growth and performance,” she said. 

Ahmed also leant her research to the discussion: “Marginalized communities use performance art to disrupt legacies of colonial violence,” she explained, and went on to say how fortunate she was “to be a beneficiary of the space.” 

Maddalena Ledezma found Everett during her “edgy era,” when she was in the eighth grade. “It was my escape from school,” she shared. While first daunted by participating in an activity that she wasn’t naturally good at, Ledezma grew to appreciate the challenge, going on to perform in and even co-direct Everett’s June showcase. 

If you know a student who might benefit from what is universally regarded by its participants as an opportunity to find grounding, build confidence and be part of a family of students and instructors, Everett could be the place for them. 

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