Southeast Queens dance studio finds new home at Jamaica Center for the Arts

Before their doors opened, community leaders had gathered to show their support at an opening celebration, welcoming The Edge Schools of the Arts to downtown Jamaica. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

The Edge School of the Arts (ESOTA), which has been an integral part of the fabric of Queens for 25 years, has found a new home at the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL), where it will serve the southeast Queens community. 

Before the school’s doors opened, community leaders gathered to show their support at an opening celebration, welcoming ESOTA to downtown Jamaica. 

The event was hosted by former ESOTA staffer Melva Miller, who was the founding executive director of the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District (BID) and previously served as deputy Queens borough president. She is now CEO of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY).

“As New York City opens its doors once again to patrons of the arts, I am thrilled that ESOTA found a new home in downtown Jamaica,” Miller said. “Southeast Queens has a long tradition of cultivating arts and culture, and the artists who create it, and today marks a significant milestone in that tradition as ESOTA continues that legacy.”

Like many other arts organizations, the longstanding dance studio was forced to close its doors in March of 2020 when the city was shut down due to COVID. 

The organization had survived by offering virtual classes and celebrated their 25th anniversary with a virtual video performance. As the city continues to emerge from the pandemic and make its way back to normalcy, ESOTA reopened its doors at JCAL, located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave. 

(Photo courtesy of JCAL)

“We’ve had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with JCAL and its leaders for many, many years. We’ve provided workshops and cultural programming for JCAL, and in turn they have been generous with allowing us to utilize their amazing space for performances and events,” said Kerri Edge, artistic director of ESOTA. 

JCAL Interim Executive Director Leonard Jacobs said the organization is delighted to advance ESOTA’s longstanding ties to JCAL through the new agreement on studio space, office space and a space for ESOTA’s boutique.

“A legendary arts provider in southeast Queens, ESOTA’s presence within our institution will raise the bar in the community for more than dance instruction, but through myriad other cultural opportunities that ESOTA can uniquely provide,” Jacobs said. 

Interim Artistic Director Courtney Ffrench said the agreement comes at a perfect moment for JCAL. 

“ESOTA’s reputation will complement our growing list of performing and visual arts classes and programs that JCAL will offer in 2022 — our 50th anniversary year. Together, JCAL and ESOTA proudly share a fundamental value — that the right to an amazing arts education belongs to everyone,” Ffrench said. 

When JCAL was in its early years on Jamaica Avenue, the Edge sisters (Donna, Wendy and Kerri) were young students at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center run by the dance legend affectionately known as “BJ.”

The iconic institution at which their mother Beverly was an early student was located just outside the bus terminal on Merrick Boulevard. 

“We basically lived at dancing school, and therefore spent our lives on ‘the Avenue,'” Donna Edge said. “The library, Blimpies, Margherita’s Pizza, The Colosseum, VIM, Gertz Mall were our stomping grounds. Downtown Jamaica holds great memories for us and we are excited to be coming back home.” 

ESOTA had been a staple in Laurelton for its first 25 years of existence. Now, Donna Edge says, they’re entering a new quarter-of-a-century in a new, but familiar home. 

“ESOTA’s hitting the ground running, forging relationships with the 103rd Precinct, Jamaica Center BID, and the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation led by President and CEO Hope Knight. It’s important to Kerri that people understand, we’re not just moving in to teach dance. We’re here to contribute to, and collaborate with, our community,” Donna Edge said. 

Jennifer Furioli, director of the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District, said that the BID is thrilled that the Edge School of the Arts is coming to Jamaica Avenue. 

“As a BID, we have participated in many community events with Kerri and her team and we look forward to ESOTA being our next-door neighbor at JCAL, bringing their history of dance and culture to downtown Jamaica,” Furioli said. 

According to Wendy, a customer service manager, she is thankful for the unwavering loyalty of their students, parents, staff, alumni and supporters as they navigated the pandemic. 

“The kids missed each other, we were mourning one of our dance moms, Sharon Green Garrett, and income was non-existent. But we made things work,” Wendy Edge said.  

The staff and students of ESOTA engaged in online classes and filming for their virtual presentations. They also continued ESOTA’s unique tradition of engaging their students in social activism in the community in their continued efforts to raise a generation of “artivists.” 

The students participated in a solitary protest march to engage in the social movement for justice with Edge and Erica Ford, a community activist and founder of Life Camp. When Councilman I. Daneek Miller asked ESOTA to participate in the reveal of the Black Lives Matter Mural on Jamaica Avenue, the school showed up in force to perform, participate and paint.

“We made good use of our time. But now it’s time to get back in the classroom!” Wendy Edge said.

ESOTA is kicking off the season with performances of “Free to Be, You and Me” to be presented in Laurelton West Playground as part of the Green/Arts Live NYC and City Artist Corps initiatives. Ashanti’s creative director Brice D. Vick, “Bring in Da Noise” tapper Omar Edwards, celebrity choreographer David “Sincere” Aiken and HBO Max’s “Legendary” season two winner Arturo Miyaki-Mugler Lyons are just a few of ESOTA’s impressive roster of teachers who are ready to get back to work.

ESOTA began classes in its new home on Saturday, Oct. 2. It will be ESOTA’s 26th Season. Registration was held on Friday, Oct. 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at JCAL, and will continue each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until classes reach capacity.

Class size will be limited to accommodate strict COVID guidelines that include adhering to the mayor’s executive order that all dancing schools require staff, students and visitors over the age of 12 to be vaccinated in order to operate. 

For tickets to “Free to Be, You and Me” and more information about ESOTA, visit edgeschoolofthearts.com.

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