New community arts center opens in Coolidge Corner

By Susie Davidson / Correspondent
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A Latin dance class, broadcasting from a 50-inch monitor in the front window, was in full swing at Sunday's grand opening of the new Brookline Community Center for the Arts at 14 Green St. in Coolidge Corner. The entranceway was bustling as well, with varied BCCA personnel greeting and assisting eager dance participants, committed arts supporters, bewildered onlookers and curious passers-by.

Just beyond the entrance, dancers filled the BCCA's self-described crown jewel - its 2,350-square-foot, gleaming, sprung-hardwood dance floor - where salsa, cha cha and merengue steps were being facilitated by BCCA's founder, Dan Yonah Ben Dror Marshall, a 1992 BHS graduate who lives on St. Paul Street.

The BCCA, which Marshall began with partners Olaf Bleck, who directs the dance company SalsaBoston, and independent consultant Vlad Selsky, aims to bring a large-scale community arts center to Brookline at affordable prices.

"I noticed that there were not enough community and culturally-inclusive offerings in the town of Brookline," said Marshall, noting a few of Cambridge's rich offerings such as the Cambridge Dance Complex. "Our aim was to establish a community center where area residents could attend lessons in dance, martial arts, fitness, and other recreational activities."

BCCA opened Sunday in the former site of Aish Ha'Torah, which had been holding most of its events in other locations, and is soon to open an Allston office.

Brookline's newest addition to the arts will eventually include six dance studios of varied sizes; three, which will open into the large dance hall, are due to be completed by mid-April, and three more by mid- to late May.

Marshall, who holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is completing a master's degree in computer engineering at Northeastern University, studied dance in Western Massachusetts and Israel.

Upon its completion, Marshall said the dance studio will be among the most modern in the country. The privately-funded, nonprofit BCCA will offer a full spectrum of classes covering all forms of movement art, including dance, martial arts, yoga, as well as health and fitness.

Marshall said the center's weekly classes consist of Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, genuine Bussey style and other forms of self defense, tap, jazz, hip-hop, urban, modern, and ballet dance, contact and performance improvisation, theatre, drama, dance history, 5 Rhythms, Irish Céilí and step dance, Middle Eastern and belly dance, international/world dance, flamenco, Hatha yoga, Pilates, salsa, tango, and other Latin dances, fitness, stretching, and strengthening for all age ranges, and musical theater, creative movement, pre-ballet, and yoga for kids.

The center's ever-expanding slate of activities will go from 6 a.m.-10 p.m., with after-hours events and workshops in the works as well. Bleck, one of Marshall's business partners, who holds a master's degree in electrical engineering and business management from M.I.T., is currently updating the center's website, which includes a mailing list.

BCCA is an off-shoot of Marshall's two and a half-year old company, FreEMotion, which he describes as a venture "to intermingle artistic genres with classical world dances and jazz, in a fusion of original, intercultural entertainment through performances and workshops."

Bleck and Marshall met three years ago at the club Sophia's where they were both working at the time. Along with Selsky, the three have entered into a partnership to run the BCCA and are sharing the responsibilities.

"I'm handling a lot of the planning and overall logistics involved in getting the center open. I guess I'm the self-appointed CFO," said Bleck. Marshall's father, Jim Marshall, an accountant at the Four Seasons Hotel, will be handling the books.

Hoping to fill a "cultural void" in the Brookline area, BCCA has tailored their offerings to the Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Latin, and Jewish communities in Brookline and surrounding towns. They also plan to include classes for the elderly and those who have suffered debilitating injuries (BCCA is largely, but will eventually be fully, wheelchair-accessible).

In terms of its faculty, BCCA has already signed up a number of professional artists. Marshall said the BCCA encourages autonomy among its faculty (Marshall frowns upon the less-inclusive-sounding "teacher"), because he understands that each has a different lifestyle, approach, class size and environment. BCCA is also promoting financial opportunities for their faculty members as well.

"We provide the infrastructure for them to grow and develop," said Marshall. "All faculty members can keep their revenues following their teaching fees. They don't make payments ahead of time, so they can test their classes from a small scale."

Faculty member Erica Sigal, who dances with Aerö, a Newton-based dance company that provides classes for physically-challenged children and adults, will teach creative movement to children and parents, and "Dance your tale off," which incorporates storybooks to bring language acquisition into the movement.

Based on the tremendous turnout at Sunday's grand opening event, the community's response to BCCA is overwhelmingly positive.

"I saw a flyer," said Elgan Webster, a town resident of "the Point" area by Jamaica Pond, who came with his wife Annette and their children Samanatha, 6, and Tyler, 4. "Samantha is going to take ballet. This is a spacious place, and that's what caught my eye. There's a family atmosphere going on."

At a time of economic and cultural uncertainty, Marshall, Bleck and Selsky hope BCCA will be something of a haven for the community and hope their venture will be a success.

"Dance is something that many people require in their lives," said Bleck. "It sort of insulates them from the ebb and flow of the economy. In a recession, you would think it's a tough time to start a business, but it's something they need."

To schedule a faculty interview, inquire about studio space availability, make a donation or investment or for more information, call Marshall at 617-970-1444, email, or visit Tax-deductible donations may be sent to the Brookline Community Center for the Arts, Inc., 14 Green St., Brookline, 02446.

Susie Davidson can be reached at