"This is the youngest dance company in the city at a public school," says Brian Alejandro Scott of the Experimental Dance Group (EDG), which he started 15 years ago at the Children's Workshop School in New York's East Village. Formed as an after-school program, EDG today is an audition-only troupe that rehearses two-and-a-half hours every Thursday. Each year it presents professionally-staged performances at venues such as Theater For The New City and Long Island City High School, as part of the New York City Dance Educators Showcase.
Some EDG participants go on to highly-selective and specialized schools like Manhattan's Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music, Art and Performing Arts. Most, though, won't pursue dance as a career. However, Scott says, "This opportunity will prepare them for anything that they attempt to do."
And that's the point. While Scott's instruction conveys the fundamentals of the Dunham technique -- which integrates African and Caribbean movement with modern-dance and ballet technique -- his ultimate goal is to impart life skills. His purpose is to use dance as a vehicle to teach kids about discipline, professionalism and success.
Comprised of girls ranging in age from 7- to 12-years-old, EDG promotes high standards. Martha Rosas, whose daughter, Miette Maolidi, was part of EDG for three years says, "I've seen other dance companies where the kids are on stage laughing. That would never happen in EDG." Member Katya Groscott, who was brought to tears when she first joined in 2008, offers, "From the beginning Mr. Scott was very strict. I didn't have that much pressure at school and at home, but he wants a lot from us. Later, you see the nice side of him, and I haven't cried since."
Initially, Jennifer Wilson's daughter, Olive Raymond, also couldn't hang with the demands. "Olive saw EDG perform at the end of first grade," Wilson remembers. " She said, 'I want to do that!' She could see how tight and together as an ensemble they were. She joined in second grade, and the beginning was rocky. She attended two classes then -- tearful, upset -- said, 'I don't want to do this anymore!' [Scott] was strict, and that was hard for her, but he sat down and talked her through it, and after a week off she came back and was hooked."
Maristella Innocenti, whose daughter, Matilda, has been a member of EDG for five years, is impressed by the approach: "A lot of kids lately get spoiled a bit too much; they don't get a lot of rules, don't get taught manners. I love the fact that Mr. Scott is tough," she says, echoing the sentiments of other parents.
Sheila Jamison, a longtime friend of Scott, observes: "Instilling that kind of focus in young people inspires a maturity other children don't develop. They get the opportunity to see how hard work pays off in applause, in acclaim."
"Watching [Scott] with the kids," adds Maria Velez-Clark, principal of The Children's Workshop School, "I could see how the discipline carries over to their work at school. The kids learn to be a lot more respectful [because] if they don't do their work they couldn't be part of the dance group, and they're very committed to that. They enjoy going there."
Matilda Innocenti, who also admits to being "a little scared at first," says, "After more dances and [Scott] telling us what to do nicer, I got into it. He's a really good teacher, and I started getting better... feeling better. Embracing his advice she adds, "Whenever I got something wrong I would remind myself if I make a mistake, just correct myself." Her mom chimes in, "Matilda's a very shy girl, but when she goes on stage the transformation is amazing. The effect from this group on Matilda every year has been extremely positive."