When a child begins dancing it can consume an entire family’s life. This is something Pamela Bjerknes had in mind when she founded the American Dance Institute (ADI) in Rockville in 2000, with her husband, Michael.
"When I started ADI my children were all young and I was all over the place trying to take care of different things, so I wanted a place where a child could dance and parents and siblings had a place to go too," she said.
In order to do this she set up a brand-new dance studio in that not only offers a not-for profit dance programs but wireless Internet, workspace for parents, homework-space for siblings and a play room for younger children. ADI also offers Pilates classes and other programs such as Kendo training. All of this will be on display at the center’s Family Arts Day on Sunday, Sept. 9 at the institute.
The program will feature free classes in a variety of dance types and performances by ADI’s youth dance ensemble and other area talent. There will also be children’s activities like face painting, arts and crafts and a ballet "petting zoo."
"It’s a great chance for people to come and watch and see what we offer," said Jen Campbell, the director of Pilates programming at ADI. "Of course we’ll also be offering some special deals for people that sign up during the day too."
DANCING REMAINS the main focus of the center – Pilates is part of the dance program, while the martial arts classes rent space at the location – and Bjerknes is committed to bringing quality instructors and performers to the area.
"Our main goal is to have a really positive atmosphere with the best teachers and education out there," said Bjerknes.
The dance program has extensive screenings for its instructors and invites well-known dance troupes to perform and give guest workshops for the students. Throughout the year ADI also puts on its own student dance performances and plays host to other programs that it has fostered via its arts incubator program. The main goal, however, is for students to have fun and learn about dance.
"It is a very balanced program. They don’t sacrifice excellence but they emphasize that dance can be enjoyed by all body types and ages," noted Janet Lawrence, a Potomac resident, whose daughter Darcy, 10, has been dancing with ADI for a number of years.
"I’ve been dancing for four-and-a-half years and all the people are really nice and it’s just fun," added Darcy.
While some students, ranging in age from young child to adult, come in up to five times a week, more casual dancers may come only once or twice a week.
"It’s a very wide-scoped program," said Bjerknes. "We just wanted to make a strong dance school in the area."
IN ADDITION TO its dance programs, the center also offers a full Pilates program for any who are interested, martial arts classes within the building and, since ADI is a nonprofit, the ability for students to participate in community services.
"Though Pilates has long been linked with dance, the bulk of our clients are business people," said Campbell. "People who are looking for a way to be fit and healthy, not just dancers."
The Pilates programming at ADI offers private instruction and group classes that are scheduled around a busy adult’s life with classes running all day a wide range of levels according to difficulty.
"We even plan classes to coincide with dance classes so that parents have the chance to do something for themselves while their children are dancing. That is one of our goals: As parents you can use the time for yourselves," said Campbell.
OFFERING PARENTS and siblings activities and space to work during their children’s classes is a point of pride for the center, Bjerknes
"The first year that Darcy danced was at a different location. I had to sit in a corridor while I waited for her class," said Lawrence, "I didn’t realize how bad it was till we went to ADS."
Lawrence takes advantage of the wireless Internet to get work done and her younger daughter can play or do homework in the center's small library. Even her older daughter, who no longer dances, worked at the center for community service hours.
"It is just an incredible fit for us," she added.
The focus on family also creates a strong community at ADI. Parents get together in the lobby and work areas and chat while their children dance. A strong community has formed over the years through the dancers.
"It is a community. It’s just a great arts center with a strong community," said Bjerknes.