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Boston's Dance Revolution Begins in the South End

Urbanity Dance has officially moved into the South End, opening a brand new studio on Shawmut Ave.

By day, Carrie Kerstein works as a faculty coordinator in the psychology department at Harvard University. But most weeknights, instead of heading home to Somerville, 26-year-old Kerstein hops on the T, bound for the South End, where she'll spend several hours dancing her heart out. 

Kerstein is a member of Urbanity Dance -- a South End-based contemporary dance company that opened its own studio on Shawmut Ave. Sunday. 

"I just always have needed dance in my life. I started asking to dance as one of my first full sentences when I was a baby," Kerstein said. 

But when it came time to look for a job, another need took precedence.

"There are people in Urbanity who teach at a couple different dance studios and bartend and waitress... For me, having that paycheck to paycheck instability is really too unstable for me. I work well under certainty," Kerstein explained.

So rather than opt for the hard-scrabble life of a full-time dancer, Kerstein chose the 9 to 5 job.

But what Urbanity does give her is the ability, after a long or stressful day at work, to express herself.

"I would go crazy if I weren’t dancing. It’s a really good release," she said. 

And "letting go" is precisely what contemporary dance is all about. Urbanity's 40 dancers have all trained exhaustively for many years in classical ballet, jazz and modern, explains Besti Graves, the founder and artistic director of Urbanity Dance. 

"The cool thing about contemporary is you have to let it go... We're saying, 'Ok, we know you have a strong foundation, now let it go and show me the artistry behind it,'" said Graves. 

Urbanity has called the South End home for the past three years -- borrowing studio space from the . "We have been squatters in the South End," Graves joked. But now the company has a home of its own -- a bright studio at 280 Shawmut Ave. 

Graves' goal is to bring Boston up to speed with Houston, L.A., New York and a host of other major cities that have professional, supported contemporary dance companies. "Boston isn’t really known for supporting dance. Of course you have Boston Ballet -- but what we’re doing is a little bit different.

"The scariest thing is money. We have to raise funds," Graves said.

The new studio on Shawmut is a step in that direction and the South End community seems to be embracing it. During Sunday's open house, neighbors, dogs and kids all stopped to poke their heads in. Some ended up hanging out for a while, seemingly lost in the rhythmic drum beats, hypnotized by the waving, twising arms, legs and torsos. 

"This is where dance is going. It’s like 'make me feel something!'... I get goosebumps inside when I'm watching that," Graves added. 

Click here for more information, including class schedules, at Urbanity Dance.

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