Tag Archives: ballet

Dancer turns LIC dog walker after cancer battle

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Troy Benson


If you come to New York with a scholarship to study and learn ballet, it may seem a little incongruous to eventually become a dog walker.

Not so, says Ryan Stewart, who, after a bout with cancer derailed his dance career, walks dogs for Long Island City residents who mostly work in the day and cannot do it themselves. “Dancing ballet requires a great deal of patience and the use of physicality to communicate and send meaning. Body awareness and control are qualities that are needed for dog walking with different breeds and personalities.”

Ryan was raised with dogs and is a dog lover. He believes that what he provides is a service to the community, helping to make the joy of dog ownership more complete. One of the things that keeps him busy is the huge growth in dog ownership in the area.

“Although I studied dance and the arts, it seemed inevitable I would work with dogs,” said Ryan. “I was raised one of seven children — kind of like a pack environment.” He laughed. Ryan’s household chore was walking the family field spaniel. He was also born in the Chinese zodiac year of the dog. “What I think influences me the most is being adopted. It seems natural for me to work with dogs, who are also raised by different biological families. We have an unspoken bond.”

First starting as a trainer for dog commercials, Ryan looked for a consistent job with canines. After trying his hand at grooming, he settled on walks as a way to consistently interact with man’s best friend. As his reputation spread he was asked by more and more owners to walk their dogs, and soon he was looking after small packs. He is a familiar and interesting figure in the area and it can be quite startling to see him controlling five to 10 dogs at a time. Any dog owner knows that in any moment one dog might take a disliking to another, so seeing Ryan’s dogs completely at peace with no discord or angry exchanges is quite remarkable.

“Developing an eye for spotting trouble is key,” he said. “If I sense one dog that may be troublesome I put them really close to me to keep a sharper eye on them. I love pit bulls. They get a bad rep but you have to understand the breed. They weren’t bred to herd sheep!”

He said that he doesn’t have a favorite type, but that his next choice for ownership will be a border collie, for their sheer intelligence, or a German shepherd, because of their versatility and trainability, particularly for rescue. “The challenge will be to find a shelter dog who isn’t overly traumatized.”

As far as small or toy dogs are concerned, he says that there is no reason not to walk them with larger dogs — as long as the personality mix is compatible. Also, smaller breeds, or “toy dogs,” tend to live much longer lives than larger breeds, but all dogs and breeds respond to Ryan’s control with affection. He has certain standards when walking groups, not often talking to strangers, which might come across as rude. “My dogs require my full attention.” The coldest day doesn’t alter his no-glove policy. “My fingertips need to feel the leashes.” And the hottest day will never see Ryan wearing sunglasses. “Dogs like to see my eyes.”

Ryan’s original scholarship took him to Alvin Ailey School to study dance. He was scheduled to transfer to Juilliard when a diagnosis of lymphoma derailed his dance career. After 14 months of chemotherapy, Ryan realized that another profession should be looked into. In an interesting display of serendipity, one of Ryan’s most decorated canine mentors, Sue Sternberg, is the daughter of his oncologist. “It was a beautiful moment when I walked up to Mrs. Sternberg and told her that her mother had saved my life.”

Ryan still has a passion for ballet and takes lessons as often as he can during the week. It is difficult to think of a greater contrast to dog walking than dance, but he continues to feed his passion for both. So watch out for him in the neighborhood, and marvel at the discipline and affection that he engenders with the dogs in his care.



Kids dance classes in Queens

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

As your kids start a new school year and exercise their minds again, it’s a great time to sign them up for an extracurricular activity that will exercise their bodies, such as dance. Here’s a list of places in Queens where they can take dance classes in ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and more.

All Star Studios
108-12 72nd Avenue, Forest Hills, 718-268-2280

Ballet, tap, jazz/contemporary, theatre, hip-hop and gymnastics/acrobatics. New students can come try a class commitment free. Private lessons also available.

Heavenly Bodies Dance & Exercise Studio
85-20 101st Street, Ozone Park, 718-843-7222

Ballet, pointe, jazz, tap and hip-hop for students 3 years old and up.

Landrum School of Dance
11-02 Clintonville Street, Whitestone, 718-767-9787

Ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, modern, hip-hop, musical, theater, acrobatics and much more. All boys classes are 50 percent off (excluding company classes).

Louise Benes Dance Company
87 – 18 114th Street, Richmond Hill, 718 849-3099

Creative movement, ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, lyrical and hip-hop for beginners of all ages, including toddlers through to adults.

Moves & Motions Dance Academy
7402- Eliot Ave, Middle Village, 718-672-3700
70-20 88th Street, Glendale, 718-417-8500

This dance school has two locations in Queens and classes in ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, contemporary, gymnastics and acrobatics, cheer dance, and nursery and pre-school dance. Private lessons available.

Nadia’s Performing Arts Centre
150-33 14th Avenue, Lower Level, Whitestone

Voted best children’s dance school by the Queens Courier’s Best of the Borough 2012, it offers classes in pre-ballet, ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, lyrical, modern, musical theatre and more.

Rising Stars Dance Studio
11005 Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill

Ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, pointe, lyrical, contemporary, musical theatre, salsa and acrobatics classes for all ages.

Robert Mann Dance Centre
214-10 41st Avenue, Bayside, 718-225-3696

Classes for beginners through professional levels for both children and adults in ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, lyrical/contemporary, acrobatics modern, theatre dance, stretch Zumba and ballroom. In addition, it offers four special programs for children from 1.6 to 7 years old.

Studio E School of Dance
187-16 Union Turnpike, Flushing, 718-264-0100

Classes in ballet and pointe, hip-hop and street styles, tap, contemporary/lyrical, creative and pre-ballet classes for 3 to 5-year-olds and a Music Together program that offers music and movement classes for mixed ages (birth to 4 years old).

The Astoria Dance Center
42-16 28th Avenue, Astoria, 718-278-1567

Classes offered include a Dance Together programs for ages 2 and 3 (with a parent), pre-school dance for ages 3.5 to 4.5, pre-dance for ages 4.5 to 5.5, pre-ballet, jazz and tap for ages 6 to 9 and classes in ballet, tap, jazz and modern for ages 10 through teens.

The Dance Project
150-47 Willets Point Boulevard, Whitestone, 718-353-2450

Classes in tap, jazz, ballet, pointe, modern and hip-hop. There is also a program where boys, 10 and up, can take hip-hop classes for free.

The Dance Source
98-11 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, 718-997-1278

Classes in ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, gymnastics, ballroom, hip-hop, ballroom and international ballroom for all ages and levels. Private coaching and private classes are available by appointment.

‘Dancing Dreams’ become a reality for these girls

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Helen Trougakos crouched in the front row of the audience. She snapped copious pictures on her iPhone of her four-year-old daughter Noreen as she danced on stage in a sparkling tutu and matching red feathered headpiece — and two leg braces. A tall, older girl dressed in black hoisted Noreen up by her waist and spun her around as Noreen beamed wildly.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Trougakos, who smiled as she watched her daughter dance. “It helps her feel like she’s normal.”

Noreen has Cerebral Palsy, a diagnosis she defies by participating in classes with Dancing Dreams, an organization that teaches ballet to physically challenged girls. Established by physical therapist Joann Ferrara, Dancing Dreams includes 43 budding ballerinas.

Ferrara, a former gymnast and dancer herself, began the program in 2008 when a young patient of hers wished she could be a dancer like her friends. From the back of her physical therapy practice, Ferrara began giving dance lessons.

“It’s a chance to be in a social environment and they have the ability to move in a fun way,” said Ferrara.

Each dancer has a designated high-school-aged “helper” to assist her, and classes are funded on a “pay-what-you-can” basis. Since many dancers come from low-income families, they participate on scholarships.

Trougakos believes that dancing not only provides a source of enjoyment for Noreen, but also benefits her physically.

“[Dancing has] helped her muscle tone increase at the same time she’s having fun,” said Trougakos. “I wish more people had [programs like Dancing Dreams].”

Each winter, the dancers and their families gather at the Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center for a holiday performance. Over 200 guests crowded the room on Thursday, December 15 as the 43 dancers sat stretched out on the floor surrounded by their helpers, awaiting their turn to perform.

“Let me see your big ballerina smiles!” said Ferrara as she ushered the first group.

Noreen, at center stage, lit up instantly.