The Center for Creative Education (CCE) in Kingston is one of those places that you learn about and then wonder why you never heard about it before. “We’re kind of a diamond in the rough,” says artistic director Bryant “Drew” Andrews. “A lot of people don’t know who we are.”
Those who do know that the nonprofit community center for arts and wellness offers a wealth of activities. And while its focus is on serving low-income, minority and at-risk children and youth (no child is ever turned away for inability to pay), CCE’s classes in music, dance, computer arts and fitness are open to the entire community and those of all ages.
Classes for youth include instruction in computerized music-making, tap, ballet, jazz and hip-hop. Classes for adults include Soul Line Dancing, which Andrews describes as being “kind of like country line dancing, but to Motown music.” It blends in pop, gospel and funk music, too, and the class is popular. Another well-attended program for all ages is DXF, a cardio interval fitness class that incorporates elements of soul line dancing with traditional dance steps, kickboxing and strength training.
Then there are the drumming classes, in which participants of all ages learn techniques of playing with both hands and sticks and in the use of all types of percussion instruments. They play their own arrangements of rhythms influenced by the traditions of worldwide cultures, particularly African and Cuban. Dedicated drum students can audition for CCE’s Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK), now in its 12th year, whose multigenerational members perform together in concert throughout the region, with appearances at West Point and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival among the many venues to their credit. POOK also often performs in collaboration with CCE’s other resident ensemble, the Energy Dance Company.
Open by audition to members of the Center’s dance classes, the Energy Dance Company numbers some 45 members at present, ranging in age from 14 to 25 in the main group, says Andrews, with kids as young as 7 participating as “energizers.” The group’s style is a blend of hip-hop, reggae and Latin dance. It has won numerous awards, including top honors at the National Spirit Dance Competition, grand prizes in all categories at the National Dance Awards in Albany and first prizes at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and on BET’s dance program 106th and Park. The group went to Germany twice to participate in the International Youth Festival in Bad Arolsen.
It takes a real commitment to be in the group, says Andrews, and the dancers have to keep up with their schoolwork. “Academically, we’re really involved with them,” he says. “We do a lot of collaboration with the schools, and expect them to keep up their academics and always ask for help. There’s never an excuse to fail.” CCE is a community, Andrews says, and the dance company is a tightly knit family who bonds together closely.
The founder of the Energy Dance Company, Andrews brought the group to Kingston when he joined forces with CCE’s founder and executive director Evry Mann, a percussionist and composer with a background in education and social services who saw the need to open a center for youth to be empowered by the arts. Andrews had found the same inspiration through working in residential treatment facilities as a counselor.
“I saw young people not having something positive and constructive when it came to extracurricular activities. And when I was a youth, what kept me focused was the arts – dancing and music. It kept me out of trouble. So I started programs with some of the residential facilities I worked at, and then we brought it into the community.”
The Energy Dance Company started as a fitness class and evolved into a dance company, Andrews says. “When I first said I wanted to name the dance company ‘Energy,’ everyone pretty much laughed at me. But ‘energy’ to me means not only the energy you put into dance, but what the world is made of: our connective energy, positive energy. And young people have so much energy; as adults, if we can connect with them in some way, we can help to contour that energy. My way is through dance movement and physical activity and music.”
In addition to heading the Energy Dance Company, Andrews, who has taught dance for over 20 years and still teaches programs in other locations, too, serves as CCE’s program and artistic director. “I love what I do,” he says. “Everybody has their thing, and as a young boy, I connected through dance and music. It took me a long time to come back to it after being in the workforce for so long. But when I came back to connecting with my passion and my purpose for being on this Earth, I don’t see myself doing anything else.”
Center for Creative Education, 15 Railroad Avenue, Kingston; (845) 338-7664, www.cce4me.org.