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Terrance Curtis - Studio A and a Dancer's Story
by Kurt Rademaekers (4/1/03)
Terrance Curtis with Children's
Ballet Class
When conversing with an artist such as Terrance Curtis, one experiences a departure from linear reality.  Curtis is a dancer, and listening to his story is like exploring multi-dimensional space—and is to be moved by his in-the-moment coloration, by his graceful swoops and curves, and by the occasional jarring of something abstract or unexpected.

East Cleveland

"In the 40's we lived three houses from the lake [Lake Erie in East Cleveland].  I learned to ice skate on the lake.  We used to get up in the morning and go down to the lake and salute the flag.  That's just what you did.  You had less exposure to the world then.  You listened to the radio, you read the paper, and you listened to what people said.  It was a very exciting time." He pauses.  "Or maybe we were just stupid."

"My family had many gifts.  My parents were social dancers.  My father spoke five languages.  My mother could do the Highland Fling, and when you watched you wondered where her feet went.  We had the banjos and the little suits to perform with.  When you went to dance class then you paid fifty cents."

The Sixties

Terrance Curtis in "Pod," 2001
Curtis arrived in LA 1965 after spending time in New York and San Francisco.  "I practiced [occupational therapy] at Gateways Psychiatric Hospital.  I also used to hold patients who were receiving electro-shock therapy.  When the clinic closed at 3:30 I would leave to attend a dance class.  I also worked at the Duck Press Restaurant downtown on Soto Street.  They had great bouillabaisse there.  I budgeted by stacking the quarters I got for tips.  Three dollars for dance class, fifty cents for laundry."

"Things were slow in the sixties.  That's when people started using speed.  People would go out and party til three or four in the morning.  There were lots of accidents on the dance floor because people would think they could do things that they couldn't."

"I took classes at Joe Tremaine's in the Valley at Lankershim and Cahuenga.  At one of the Debbie Reynolds dance studios on Sherman Way.  At Claude Thompson's.  You'd be going all over the city for dance classes.  At Dupre's on Third Street.  More recently at The Edge on Cole.  I had many performing opportunities between 1970 and 1978.  I danced at the Santa Barbara outdoor auditorium and on many sound stages.  I danced for a beer commercial shot on location in Mexico."

Teaching and Bill

Bill Brown
Curtis started teaching dance in 1978 at a studio on Hillhurst Ave.  "Bill [Brown] moved in around 1976 or 78.  We were together constantly.  The studio we taught at was just around the corner from where we lived.  Brown taught aerobics, and I danced my ass off.  From 1978 on, we said, Let's open our own studio."

"Bill learned about being a dancer as an adult and about teaching dance to adults.  One of the big differences between adults and children is that when children fall down they bounce back up.  Adults stay there.  Men in particular have a hard time learning to dance.  You realize that they're missing half their cortex—it never got developed.  Trying to get an adult who has never danced to plié can be really difficult."

In 1982, Curtis and Brown took over a commercial space on Hillhurst Ave and opened it as Studio A Dance.  In 1990 they moved to their current location at 2306 Hyperion Ave.  "Bill found this wonderful space!"

Studio A Dance

Studio A Dance is one of the hidden treasures of Silver Lake.  It's located behind En Japanese Antiques near the corner of Hyperion Avenue and Scotland Street.  When you enter the gate you know you're entering a special place, an oasis of sorts.  The wooden garden walkway is overhanging with flowers and vines, and leads to the two large studios.  The light entering each studio from the broad French doors bounces off the oak floors and fills the space with a warm glow. 

Curtis teaches ballet at Studio A.  Brown teaches jazz, jazz aerobics (Bodyworks) and stretch classes (Stretch Zone).  Various other types of dance are also offered by other instructors including Hawaiian, tap dance, modern, and belly dancing.  "It's really a community effort," says Curtis.

"Studio A is about dance for adults for the most part.  Children's ballet goes through phases.  When people in Silver Lake have their first child, she gets everything.  By the time they have their second child, they're ready to move to La Cañada to get a better school for the first one."

"We offer the Studio as rental space for rehearsals and performances.  You have a hard time finding performance space to rent in Silver Lake.  We rented it for rehearsal space to Michael Bourne [renowned for his recent re-interpretation of Swan Lake] and his wife-to-be."

"I saw [Bourne's] Swan Lake twenty-five times," Curtis tells me.  "Adam Cooper has a magnificently proportioned body and is an incredible mover.  Did you see it? The corp was primarily men, gorgeous men walking around on stage.  Finally!"

Hemoglobin 3

Curtis was diagnosed with Leukemia fifteen years ago.  He has undergone the debilitating process of chemotherapy and endured the difficult process of recovery.  "Your hemoglobin is supposed to be at 15.  Mine dropped to 3 and I couldn't pick up a pencil." He is now in remission.

"I can't really move right now," he said as he demonstrated his problem with maintaining his balance.  "I have neuropathy in my feet.  I can't dance or jump, but I can make great lines.  I can do fourth position.  When I get my leg up on the barre I look great."

"If you don't move around, you die.  All of this is cleaned up now.  Now we just need to rehabilitate it."

Teaching and The Dance

Curtis has recently resumed teaching.

"I try to convey to students that dance is for the betterment of your body.  And it's a way of sharing the music with the composer.  People will bring things to the studio—like luggage and food.  I tell them, when you come here everything else in your life should be taken care of.  You come here just to dance. 

"With ballet you're thinking about what you want your body to do, and what you want to interpret.  You show off your body when you dance; you show off your hands, your feet, your forearms.  You do jumps and turns, you create lines.  It's its own language, like English.  You have a story you want to tell and you want it to flow nicely.  It's a way to know your body and your mind."

"Unhinged"

Jeanine Ward in "Unhinged"
Curtis talked about his choreographic work.  Last year at the Cumulus Dance Company spring production at Studio A, Curtis unveiled "Unhinged," an abstract and moving piece about a struggle for sanity, about becoming disconnected and about silent horror.

"My inspiration comes from my toy trunk of ballet, modern and jazz ideas.  And it comes from the cast.  I just go at it like Faust until I get what I want.  It comes from things you know about.  "Unhinged" came from my being ill."

 

At Nobody's Expense

"The moment you show a dance it dies," Curtis says.  "The next time it's different.  Every performance is unique."

"If all I ever did was to put on a pair of shoes and tapped for a while, I'd feel like I haven't disrupted anyone too much.  I've had a good time and not at somebody else's expense.  I could have been a banker, but I chose the dance.  And I'm glad I did."

[Reprinted with permission, Park2ParkLA.com]

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