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  • Art & Dance: Helping Others

    Sometimes you have to “Just Dance.”

    That’s what a group of children and adults have done at a local school in the village of Chittenango, N.Y., since a fire destroyed their studio in late September. And this Saturday, they’ll dance again in a fundraiser to benefit the rescue workers who put out the blaze.

    “We are a small community that needs to take care of each other,” said Michael Quirk, a Chittenango native who opened Just Dance Studio seven years ago. “During our time of need Chittenango has stepped up and helped us. We want to give back to show our thanks to this great community.”

    Chittenango, located about 15 miles east of Syracuse, is a small village best known as the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The village holds a three-day Oz-Stravaganza! and has a yellow brick road on both sides of Genesee Street, which houses Chittenango’s main business district.

    Just Dance Studio, which has 87 students ages 3 to adult, had its facilities on the first floor of a two-story brick building on Genesee. Late in the evening on Sept. 24, a fire started in a second floor apartment and quickly engulfed the building.

    The students were dancing the next day at the local high school.

    In early October, I took a brief business trip to the Syracuse-Rochester area. Stephanie Wicks, a longtime friend and co-worker of Jill’s, mentioned the fire and what had happened.  “You probably could get some good pictures,” she said.

    I contacted Quirk and his sister, Kelli Handzel (the business manager), and offered to take photos of several of the studio’s students to raise funds for the rebuilding efforts. We agreed to meet on a Saturday afternoon the day before I left outside the studio building, which has been condemned and will be demolished.

    Ten dancers, ranging in age from 7 to 11, were there with their parents. Many were wearing Just Dance T-shirts, and all had costumes. We took photos at the studio, went to the Chittenango Volunteer Fire Department, where a festival was being held, and then to Chittenango Falls State Park.

    Most of the photos in my “Art & Dance” series are of pre-professional and professional dancers who have been immersed in years of training. This shoot served as a reminder of why kids get into it in the first place — they like to “Just Dance." 

    Saturday’s recital, which will be held from noon to 2 p.m. at Chittenango Middle School, comes as the volunteer fire department continues its annual fundraising campaign. Taxpayers fund the trucks and most of the department’s emergency equipment, but repairs, maintenance and upkeep of the building and grounds are paid for with donations.

    Tickets are $5 at the door. Dance and fire safety demonstrations are planned, along with flu shots, a 50/50 raffle and other activities. Quirk is using the recital as an opportunity to “reveal” where the replacement studio will be located.

    “We are very lucky,” he said during the shoot. “This community has been so supportive. At the same time, many people thought we wouldn’t continue to operate or just close up shop, so we need to make a statement that we’re still here and we’ll be even better. For many of our kids, dance is becoming their primary activity. They enjoy it too much. We enjoy it too much to just walk away.”

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    To make a tax-deductible donation to the Chittenango Fire Department, mail it to 417 Genesee Street, Chittenango, N.Y., 13037. For more “Art & Dance” photos from this session, go here.