Dance legend’s next move: Valley native Teddy Forance returns to region to start a dance school

  • Students at the CLI Dance Conservatory in Easthampton take part in a class taught by visiting choreographer Deshawn Da Prince. The school is led by dancer and Valley native Teddy Forance, who moved back to the area this spring from California. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deshawn Da Prince, a choreographer with CLI Dance Conservatory, leads a class. Jaylin Martin, at right, is one of 38 students in the new Easthampton school. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Teddy Forance, who began his dancing career as a child while growing up in the Valley, talks about returning here from California to start his new school. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Teddy Forance, middle front, works with Gionna D’Alessandro and Devin Waxman along with other students at the CLI dance Conservatory. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Teddy Forance works with students in he first year of classes at the CLI Dance Conservatory, based at Easthampton’s Hackworth School of Performing Arts. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Teddy Forance works Amanda Knowles, center, and Cameryn Kelly, in back at left, two of the 38 students at the CLI Dance Conservatory in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Teddy Forance works with Gionna D’Alessandro, one of the students at the new CLI Dance Conservatory in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students at the CLI Dance Conservatory work on moves in a class led by visiting choreographer Deshawn Da Prince. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jay Breen is surrounded by students at CLI Dance Conservatory; they’re all part of a class led by visiting choreographer Deshawn Da Prince. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Teddy Forance says the CLI Conservatory is an outgrowth of an online dance instruction business that he and he partners started in California in 2014. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leading the way: Teddy Forance, at left, leads students in a class at the CLI Conservatory, an intense program designed to launch dancers into professional careers.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lift those legs! Teddy Forance urges on students at the CLI Dance Conservatory, a new school located at the Hackworth School of Performing Arts in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Front middle, Teddy Forance works with left, Gionna D’Alessandro, and right, Devin Waxman and other students at the CLI Conservatory. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Gazette staff
Published: 12/10/2021 11:44:30 AM
Modified: 12/10/2021 11:44:04 AM

As he moved among the 10 dancers in the studio, Teddy Forance gave a careful look at their positions, squatting down from time to time, hands hanging between his knees, as he watched them move.

“Good, good, good,” he said, with a quick clap of his hands. “Now let’s go back to the opening sequence ... I want you to think about carving the space with your arm as you turn.” Arching his body backwards, he sliced his right arm in a downward arc, leaving his left arm slightly bent above his head.

The dancers copied the move, and Forance clapped his hands again. “All right! Here we go.”

Back in the early to mid-2000s, Forance, who grew up in Southampton and began dancing seriously as a child, had become something of a legend on the Valley dance scene, winning a number of awards and competitions while still in school before leaving for Athens in 2005, at age 17, to dance with Anna Vissi, who Forance says is known as the “Madonna of Greece.”

Over the next 15-plus years, Forance built a busy career as a contemporary dancer and choreographer, moving to New York City and then Los Angeles, working with Cirque du Soleil and dancing with other pop music stars: Madonna, Lady Gaga, Usher and Kelly Clarkson. He also taught at dance conventions across North America. Except for visits to see family, and to produce some dance shows at Northampton’s Academy of Music, he hadn’t spent much time in the Valley for years.

But at age 33, Forance is back living in Southampton and running a new dance program based at his family’s longtime business, the Hackworth School of Performing Arts in Easthampton. What’s called the CLI Dance Conservatory is designed to give experienced and talented young dancers nine concentrated months of training, six days a week, to help launch them professionally.

It’s the kind of program he might have gravitated to himself when he was fresh out of high school, Forance says, as he was more interested in working right away or training intensively than in pursuing a fine arts degree in dance.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said during a recent interview at the Hackworth School. “I’m passionate about it. I didn’t have a clear path after high school ... I fully support people [who want to get a BFA in dance], but this program is more for someone like me who wants to go all out and dance 10 hours a day.”

CLI (which stands for “create, learn, inspire”) Conservatory is also an outgrowth of an online dance instruction business, CLI Studios, that Forance and a few friends started several years ago in Los Angeles, one that initially sold videotaped tutorials to dance schools and other forums and then added Zoom classes a few years before COVID-19 arrived.

Once the pandemic set in, Forance says, attendance in those online classes boomed: As many as 15,000 people might attend a session, and attendees came from 150 countries.

Forance says he and his key business partner, Jon Arpino, started the online business as a means of building new links in the dance community. “We saw all these studios and teachers and dancers not connected online,” he said. “Instead they’d have to go to [dance] conventions to make those connections ... we wanted another way to bring people together.”

In turn, the growth of CLI Studios — Forance says the business now has 25 salaried employees and offers 1,500 online classes taught by 300 instructors — got him thinking of doing in-person teaching with other instructors. But he wasn’t sure where that might happen, and he now had a family to think about: He and his wife, Victoria, have a daughter, Valentina, who’s 5, and a son, Beni, who’s 3.

In 2020, he notes, “We started looking at the next five years, and my wife said, ‘What about your hometown?’ I hadn’t thought of that because I couldn’t imagine myself not in LA. But then I started thinking the conservatory could be here. A place like this [Hackworth] would cost $50,000 a month in LA.”

The family moved back to the Valley this past spring, as did Jonny Forance, Teddy’s youngest brother and a former dancer who now handles all the videotaping and other web-based content for the business. “It was great to have Jonny in LA with me, and I’m really psyched to have him come back here with me now,” Forance said.

Six days a week

At the CLI Conservatory, which opened in September, the 38 students, ages 18 to 24, are kept plenty busy. Classes — in jazz, hip hop, contemporary, ballet and other styles — run Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m to 7 p.m., with breaks for meals, and Saturday from 3 to 10 p.m. The school closely follows the academic calendar, running through the end of May, with breaks in fall and spring and at Christmas.

Tuition for the program is $17,000, and students have to find their own living accommodations, though Forance hopes to be able to provide that at some point. Ideally, he says, he would buy an office building next door that was once part of Hackworth — the dance school was first established in the 1930s — and turn it into dormitories, additional studios and a cafeteria for students.

He says within three to four weeks of when he first announced plans to open the conservatory via a post on Instagram, more than 300 students had auditioned for the roughly 40 available slots. “That’s when I said to Jonny, ‘This is really gonna happen!’ ”

Selecting the opening class for the conservancy was a challenge, he says, but the students chosen were the ones Forance and his staff believed had the best shot “to actually become a professional dancer at the end of the year. We could have accepted 60, but these 38 are at the highest level, and we want to give them the tools to take that next step.”

Indeed, the program is designed to help students make industry connections. There are Zoom seminars led by professional dancers who talk about how they built their careers. Forance also has hired about 100 visiting instructors from different fields who teach classes and share their experiences in the business.

“Our special sauce is that students get to meet a lot of commercial choreographers, which doesn’t usually happen in a normal college setting,” he said. “It can open up so many opportunities.”

Case in point: Not long after classes began in September, Forance got a call from a dancer friend about a Hollywood film crew in Boston that was looking for regional dancers for a scene. Forance and his staff stopped classes for a day, shot audition tapes of the students, and sent them to the film crew — and three students were hired for the job, earning about $3,000 apiece for three days of work, Forance says.

“It was really an exciting moment for all of us,” he said. He notes that the conservatory also gives additional exposure to students by filming all the classes and posting the sessions online, and that the dancers get paid to assist other classes at Hackworth. 

Forance has also gotten help from teachers who previously trained him. Two of his regular local instructors are Charles and Rose Flachs, experienced ballet dancers who teach at Mount Holyoke College and run a dance school in Holyoke, the Massachusetts Academy of Dance. Both of them also taught Forance during his last three years of high school, when he was home-schooled.

“I hadn’t seen them in 18 years, but when they ‘yes’ [to teaching at the conservatory], I knew I could do this program,” he said.

Beyond dance instruction, he says the conservatory is also focused on keeping students mentally and emotionally healthy. He knows from his own experience how competitive the business is.

“How do we support them off the dance floor? There’s a lot of stress as they try to become professionals,” he said.

Forance doesn’t perform much himself these days, though he’s continued to do choreography and is open to dancing opportunities down the road. He says he’s mostly “very inspired in an entrepreneurial sense” at the moment.

“What I enjoy is seeing where there’s a gap in the [dance] community, an opportunity that could create more jobs, and then making that happen — connecting with the right people to bring that about. I think I can do more for the evolution of dance this way than I can performing.”

There’s also the joy of teaching dance, for the first time in his life, in one set location, and doing it in person after several years of largely offering online instruction — and he gets to spend more time with his whole family.

“It all works for me,” he said. “I’m just thrilled we could make this happen.”


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