Volume 80, Number 13 | August 26 - September 1, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photos by Paul Scully

Rachael Kosch helps her young dance students form letter shapes, above.

Child of Westbeth returns to teach dance to toddlers

By Bonnie Rosenstock

For the 10 best formative years of her life, ages 10 to 20, dancer/choreographer Rachael Kosch called the Westbeth Center for the Arts her home and inspiration.

With its labyrinthine hallways, cavernous stairwells and spacious basement, Westbeth provided a world of imagination for kids.

“I thought it was fun,” Kosch recalled. “Because of the physical layout, we were allowed to run in the halls. My parents knew we weren’t out of the building and thought it was safer, so they allowed me to use these inside areas as playing space — although I don’t think the running and screaming was appreciated by all the tenants,” she said.

Westbeth was brand new at that time — Kosch lived there from 1970 to 1980 — and very isolated. The cement ring in the inner courtyard and the cement raised circles of the outer courtyard served as natural platforms for her staged dance/theater “happenings,” and other games.

“We wouldn’t have had so much fun if I still lived on the Upper West Side and had to go to the park with a babysitter,” Kosch said.

It was at Westbeth that she had her first taste of dance training, with two of the complex’s residents, Gurta Zimmerman and Sally Gross, in their apartments/studios, and at the Merce Cunningham Studio on an upper floor. Coming full circle 30 years later, Kosch, who now lives in Tribeca with her composer/musician husband, Michael Kosch, is returning to Westbeth — where her painter mother still lives — as a children’s creative dance teacher. Her goal, as she stated it, is “to return to the rejuvenated neighborhood to introduce the youngest generation of West Villagers to the art of dance, and Westbeth is the perfect place.”

Kosch will be teaching a weekly class for 3-to-5-year-olds every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., from Sept. 9, 2010, to May 26, 2011, in Westbeth’s Community Room, 463 West St., between Bank and Bethune Sts. Thurs., Sept. 2, is an open house with a free introductory class and refreshments. The price for the course is $780; a half semester is $380.

She admitted that teaching this age range will “keep me on my toes” because there are developmental differences.

“I will be encouraging to the little ones while making sure the older ones aren’t bored with too much coddling of the little ones,” she said. “If the class grows to a certain number, then I can split it up. But even some 3-year-olds can try first position.”

Class will consist of the basics of classical ballet, some jumping and locomotor movements, complemented with scarves, streamers, rudimentary Chinese ribbon technique (which she learned from a 6-year-old), animal figurines to emulate animal movements, pine cones to create delicate ballet hands, musicality — “and all kinds of imagery that modern dancers are familiar with,” she said. Michael will provide live accompaniment. On the last day of class there will be a performance with costume elements.

Kosch has been teaching dance to children since 1986 when she graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a degree in choreography and teaching. Since returning to New York, she has been training at and teaching dance to 6-year-olds at Diana Byer’s Ballet School New York, 30 E. 31st St., and at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, 316 E. 63rd St.

Kosch rehearses her dance-based children’s show, “The Festival of the Vegetables,” in the Nancy Meehan Studio in Westbeth. She is the choreographer and costume designer, and her husband wrote the music and poetry. The production, coming up to its fifth year at the Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 E. Fourth St., is scheduled for three weekends, from Feb. 5 to 21, 2011. The show is inspired by “The Carnival of the Animals” by French composer Camille Saint-Saens, for which Ogden Nash wrote the humorous verses; but instead of animal characters, Kosch uses vegetables.

For the creative dance class, parents will be able to peek in through a curtain.

“With a 3-year-old there are separation problems, not only on the part of the child,” Kosch acknowledged. “Hopefully, they won’t be too noisy on the other side,” she added, smiling.

For more information, call Rachael Kosch at 212-566-3097, or e-mail rachael@metropolitanplayhouse.org .

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