BETHLEHEM — Guinevere Giles, founder of the nonprofit dance school that recently celebrated its grand opening at the former Mangia location on New Scotland Road in Slingerlands, learned to dance in the nearby village of Voorheesville. Since then, she has committed to sharing her gift with the region in which she grew up — sharing the art of dance with students of all ages and from all backgrounds.
After ten years of training under Susan Morse at In His Steps Dance School, Giles became certified as an instructor and worked with Morse for about a year until founding her own studio in 2003. The first location, at Stonewell Plaza in Slingerlands, was called Step By Step Dance School. Eventually, Step By Step became Redemption Dance Institute (RDI), the 501(c) 3 nonprofit it is today.
After being formally recognized as a nonprofit in 2011, Giles said she began looking at ways to establish meaningful roots and give back to the community that she grew up in. “We were looking at how we could grow at a healthy pace and be a part of our community as needed,” she explained. “I knew we were getting to the point where we would outgrow Stonewell Plaza.”
When a second location at Hannaford Plaza in Delmar also began to feel too small and Giles decided she wanted to merge both locations, she reached out to the Town of Bethlehem and was referred to the realtor who told her the former Mangia location was available for rent.
“That particular property holds a lot of special value in my heart because, being local, I ate there and was part of that local community,” she said. “And so I was sad to see that the building had been sitting. So I decided to go look at it to see if a restaurant could even feasibly turned into a dance studio.”
Giles said the dimensions of the space were good, but outfitting it as a functional studio was going to require “a ton of work.” She initially proposed buying the property outright, but the owners were uninterested in selling. “So it was decided that we would renovate the space — and have a very long lease. So we know that we’re planted there.”
Giles, a single mother who owns a roofing and construction business, used her own company to do the renovation work on her new studio. “I needed to kind of merge my life,” she said. “The roofing and the dance into one space. So I was really looking for a dual purpose building.”
She also said she wanted something close, so families wouldn’t have far to drive, pointing out that Slingerlands doesn’t offer much in the way of commercial space. She credited the Town of Bethlehem with making the search easier. “They’ve been incredibly supportive,” she said. “Of both my nonprofit and my construction business. Working with the town has been really encouraging. I’m very grateful.”
RDI has now moved out of Stonewell Plaza and is finishing out the lease at Hannaford Plaza. “The intention for the foreseeable future is to be able to operate out of this space,” Giles said of the new New Scotland location, noting that the instructors, as well as students and their families, are happy to be under the same roof. Since the initial merger, she said RDI has grown from 100 students to 140.
The studio accommodates students aged three and older, pursuing a range of goals. “I would say we’re more recreationally based,” said Giles, “But we provide techniques for those who come in and say this is something they want to take to college. We have advanced courses; one of our instructors is actually a professional dancer for Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.”
Sinopoli and her Troy-based dance company, as well as Maude Baum with EBA Dance on Lark Street in Albany, according to Giles, were instrumental in helping with the move. “Those two women are just iconic in our area, obviously” she said. “And we’re incredibly grateful for their support. It’s a lot, when you’re a nonprofit.”
The process to become approved as a nonprofit, she said, primarily involved defining the studio’s vision and demonstrating the experience and ability of its staff. “I really think they’re hoping to see that you’re committed to your community and willing to help those less fortunate, as well as the appropriate education component being there.”
Giles said that she believes hers is the only dance studio in the area to independently fund dance scholarships, taken advantage of by more than 30 of her current students. She hopes, however, to partner with local businesses and organizations to help fund and expand the scholarship program, which currently costs RDI between $15,000 and $20,000 each year.
“We’ve been here in Slingerlands now for 15 years and we hope to be able to partner with businesses that might be willing to sponsor a child who’s less fortunate,” she said. “We have foster children; we have adopted children; and we also have children with special medical needs.”
Beth Patterson has three children currently enrolled in RDI, with the help of the studio’s scholarship program. Patterson cares for seven children, ages 6—12, who have come to her through the foster care system and says that RDI’s program has been an invaluable tool for dealing with some of the challenges that come with helping children to deal with difficult situations at such a young age. She also said it has helped her to afford the classes, attended twice weekly by the two girls, who are in RDI’s pre-pointe ballet classes, and once a week by one of her five boys, who takes a pop dance class Patterson said “is very cool.”
“You never know what life is going to bring you,” she said, laughing as she described her unexpected and unconventional family. “I know it sounds nuts. But, at the end of the day, as crazy as it sounds, it works.”
Patterson has a grown daughter who took dance classes as a child and said that RDI provides a different experience. “It’s exactly what I was looking for,” she said. “There’s healing and nurturing and life going on in a good direction.” She consistently recommends parents she has met through her daycare business to RDI and clearly supports the organization’s mission.
With such a large family to take care of, Patterson said there’s no way she would have been able to afford to keep her young dancers dancing without the help of RDI’s scholarship program. “In the beginning, I tried to pay for it. But seven kids is a lot of kids.” The scholarships made it possible for the older girls to continue their classes, which she said have been noticeably beneficial for their self-esteem, as well as enroll the younger boy in a class that he enjoys.
One of the girls, twelve-year-old Tamellyona — “Melly,” for short — has aspirations of being a ballerina when she gets older. Patterson said she simply hopes Melly is learning skills that will serve her for the rest of her life — while doing something she loves.
As RDI’s name (and that of Morse’s studio, where she trained) may imply, Giles is a practicing Christian whose faith sometimes intersects with her work. All faiths are welcome at RDI, but her studio does offer “Christ Centered Liturgical Dance” classes to those who are interested in experiencing Christian worship through choreographed and interpretive movement.
“That’s my background as the director,” Giles said, explaining that dancing has often had a religious aspect for her. “And I’m completely straightforward about that. But I love that we have such a great mix of students enrolled.”
In addition to the liturgical dance classes, RDI offers classical ballet, ballroom, tap and interpretive dance classes. The studio also puts on two public shows a year, one of which is coming up on Friday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 63 Mountainview Avenue in Albany. Tickets are $5 for ages 10 and older. RDI’s 2018 spring show will take place at The Egg in Albany on Saturday, May 19 at 5:30 p.m. Tickets for that show will be $7, for ages 6 and older.
Another reason for the name Redemption, explained Giles, is her desire to redeem the very art of dance from a history involving a considerable amount of misunderstanding, mistrust and fear. “To me, it signifies dance being redeemed as something beautiful and true and healthy.