Strutting their stuff: Students from the Valley’s new dance school, CLI Conservatory, will showcase their work at the Academy of Music

  • Students at the CLI Dance Conservatory in Easthampton will present shows at Northampton’s Academy of Music May 15, 21 and 22 to showcase what they’ve learned at CLI. Gazette file photo

  • Students at the CLI Dance Conservatory in Easthampton work on some of their moves. They’ll present shows at Northampton’s Academy of Music May 15, 21 and 22 to showcase what they’ve learned at CLI, started last year by dancer and Valley native Teddy Forance. Gazette file photo

  • Students at the CLI Dance Conservatory in Easthampton will present shows at Northampton’s Academy of Music May 15, 21 and 22 to showcase what they’ve learned at CLI, started last year by dancer and Valley native Teddy Forance, right. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2022 4:12:23 PM
Modified: 5/12/2022 4:10:43 PM

Last year, local dance legend Teddy Forance, who’d mostly lived and worked outside the Valley since graduating from high school in 2005, came back home with his young family to try something new: running his own in-person dance school.

The CLI Dance Conservatory, which opened last September in Easthampton, is designed to give experienced and talented young dancers, ages 18 to about 24, nine concentrated months of training, six days a week, to help launch them professionally.

Now the students from the conservatory’s initial class are poised to showcase what they’ve learned, with performances this weekend and next at Northampton’s Academy of Music that will offer a range of work, from a Broadway-style musical to hip hop, jazz, contemporary and modern dance.

“It’s something we’ve all been working toward for a long time now, and the students are really excited,” Forance, a Southampton native, said this week in a phone call. “There are some truly emotional moments” in these performances.

Forance notes that dance sessions at CLI (the acronym stands for “create, learn, inspire”), which take place at the Hackworth School of Performing Arts in Easthampton — it’s a family business where Forance first danced — are regularly videotaped and uploaded to the internet, so his students already have some visibility.

But the shows this weekend and next, he noted, “will be their live performance debut.”

On Sunday, May 15, at 6 p.m., CLI Conservatory will present “A Good Day,” a musical that’s based on the theme of “A Chorus Line,” the 1975 play that told the story of dancers auditioning for spots in a Broadway show. In “A Good Day,” the focus is on the stories of the 37 CLI dancers as they navigate the ups and downs of conservatory training and their dreams of becoming professional dancers.

“A Good Day” has been written, directed and choreographed by New York choreographers and dancers Al Blackstone and Billy Griffin, longtime friends and colleagues of Forance who have taught at CLI this past year. Forance, 34, says he met Blackstone and Griffin when he was still in school and attending dance conventions around the country.

“They have tons of experience on Broadway, as both choreographers and storytellers,” he said. “Here they’re telling the stories of these young dancers who are trying to take that next step into the professional dance world and the hurdles they have to overcome, and what they’re discovering about themselves.”

The show will include a backing band led by John “Wayno” Waynelovich, CLI’s music director and the keyboardist for the popular New England jam band Barefoot Truth.

On May 21 and 22 at 6 p.m., CLI is presenting “Press Play,” which will feature a range of different dances, both by all 37 students together and by smaller groups of dancers. There will be 30 pieces in the show, Forance said.

“This is gonna be pretty much a non-stop, athletic show with all different styles, and we’ll be showing [dance] video in between sets,” added Forance, who has choreographed two of the dances; a number of guest choreographers from across the country have arranged the others.

CLI had to negotiate a last-minute hiccup earlier this week when one of the student dancers and a choreographer came down with COVID. That led to the cancellation of a May 14 performance of “A Good Day,” but Forance says all the students and choreographers will take part in the three scheduled shows.

Forance danced for years himself when he was younger, in particular with pop music stars such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and Usher. He also taught for years at dance conventions around the country, then started an online dance instruction business, CLI Studios, with friends several years ago in Los Angeles, where he used to live.

CLI Dance Conservatory is an outgrowth of that, and as the conservatory’s first year comes to a close, Forance is looking to expand the school. He says they received over 1,000 applications for the 2022-2023 season and are looking to accept as many as 100 new students, in large part by converting a vacant retail space across the street from the Hackworth School (on Route 10) into new dance studios.

CLI also plans to rent some apartment space in Easthampton to allow visiting faculty to spend more time at the school next year, and the conservatory is creating an in-house dance company for some of the most talented students in the current class; they’ll continue to train with CLI.

“There’s a lot happening,” said Forance, who plans to do some guest choreography himself this summer. “We’re looking forward to showing a bit of that” at these coming shows.

Tickets for “A Good Day” and “Press Play” can be purchased at aomtheatre.com. More information about the CLI dance Conservatory is available at clistudios.com/cli-dance-conservatory.


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