Steffi Nossen, A School of Dance and So Much More

By Kelly Fitzpatrick September 20, 2022

Are you looking for extracurricular activities for your children, or even for yourself this fall?  Do you try to align your spending with your values?  Does a whole child, or mind, body, and spirit, approach to learning connect with you?  I’ve learned more about an absolute gem that I know our community of families would enjoy as well.

There was a bit of happenstance in coming across Steffi Nossen School of Dance and I do believe that there was some alignment in the stars once it happened.  One afternoon this summer, I took my two littles to the library for a special event led by Kristina Todd Nelson, the School Director for Steffi Nossen.  The school was becoming more familiar to me as I had seen its name on the back end of our MacaroniKID website given the long-standing relationship the previous publisher had with the school.  I was excited to learn more.  From the previous articles and images, it was clear there was a robust curriculum in place, with year round offerings and many community events.  But after experiencing the magic of the class firsthand, I knew the connection between MacaroniKID and Steffi Nossen needed to continue.  This was no ordinary after-school program, nor a dance program that could be singularly defined as such.  

The first amazing thing about the class we attended was that it was a truly-high quality program being offered at no-cost to the library and its patrons.  The school has a multi-pronged approach to its work in the community.   Central to its mission is community transformation through dance education and performance.  This shows up in a variety of ways:

  • School Enrichment Services - students from Pre-K to high school participate in residencies both during the school day and afterwards
  • Community Engagement - the partnership with the library was one such example of how this shows up around us.  Recreation centers and senior centers are also regularly on the calendar
  • Adaptive Dance Programs - children and adults with specialized physical and/or intellectual needs can attend classes designed with accessibility and joy in mind

The second amazing thing about the class was the experience itself.  My son can be a tough critic.  We’ve left more than one activity in tears after an unwillingness to participate.  This was different from the start.  Kristina hooked all of the children immediately with her warmth and with an authentic, yet strategic way of building community in a group that was coming together for the first and only time.  My daughter was also fully mesmerized, bopping and babbling along to the beats.  There was a thoughtful mix of technical instruction and self-expression in the session.  And, the adults had as much fun as the children.

When a free week of classes opened this week, we had to have another one of these magical experiences.  This time, it was a true dance class where the children went in without their parents.  Although tentatively at first, my son was also once again drawn in by the energy and enthusiasm of the instructor, Courtney Murray.  Joining Ms. Courtney was an older dance student, further exemplifying how the school forms its own intergenerational community of support.  The parents could hear the joy from the other room and he came out with a grin on his face and a song for the car.

Meeting with Community Relations Director Judith Ross and Executive Director Shelley Grantham led to the discovery of a seemingly endless list of other amazing aspects of the school.  I was already deeply intrigued by the quality of the programs, however I was not prepared to be so deeply moved by the history and the mission - and also by the passion of the faculty.  I’ve worked in schools for a long time.  This feeling that you get from the studio, from the staff - it’s rare.  It’s a special blend of passion, purpose, and belonging.  There’s a genuine love of the work.  It’s clear the mission statement here doesn’t get hung on a wall - it breathes throughout the space in every careful choice that is made, from the course offerings, to the professional development for the teachers, to the holding spaces created for students to be unapologetically themselves.  You get that goosebump feeling, and run the risk of misty eyes too, when you hear firsthand about how the school came to be and how it has evolved and responded to challenges, such as the pandemic, emerging even stronger.  If taking part in a legacy built on activism calls to you, you’ll feel at home here.

Steffi Nossen School of Dance has been in operation since 1937 when its namesake fled occupied Germany to settle in our area.  Steffi was already an accomplished dancer and forged a path for pre-professional dancers at the school.  And while the pre-professional path is top performing, she did something else truly special as well.  In addition to a recreational dance program open to all, she built a legacy centered on education, performance, and outreach. Steffi Nossen was known for her civic engagement, such as working with women in the factories on mobility, as well as the ways in which she reduced barriers to dance education.  

Her methods and overall philosophy were revolutionary, and remains so today.  The out-of-the-box approach teaches modern dance technique as increasingly complex patterns, instead of the more traditional approach of teaching through repetitive exercises.  This not only teaches technique, alignment, and discipline, but also encourages creativity, self-confidence, and respect for all dancers as artists and individuals.  To further exemplify how the school continues to stand out and stay true to its roots in the present day was the great honor of The Steffi Nossen Dance Foundation, parent of the school, being recognized by ArtsWestchester with its 2022 Arts Education Award.  

What else should you know?

  • The school offers classes for children as young as 18 months old and has year round sessions with open enrollment. 
  • Class offerings include modern dance, ballet, jazz, tap, theater dance, creative movement, adaptive dance, storybook dance, and hip hop.  
  • New to the company is the wellness component which includes yoga for all ages, as well as free dance classes for those living with Parkinson’s.  This was a careful choice made with great consideration to what the pandemic has taught us about slowing down and caring for ourselves.  
  • Scholarships and sliding scale tuition are available to ensure equity in access for varied socioeconomic circumstances.  
  • The main location is in White Plains and the satellite location is in Chappaqua.

When you think about the power behind your spending, having the opportunity to both provide your child with dance instruction of the highest quality and supporting a local business that does an amazing job of making a difference in the lives of so many in our community, feels like just the right fit.  You should also know that words on a screen cannot do the Steffi Nossen experience the justice it deserves.  Call the office, take in a free class, find them at the library to take part firsthand.  I have a feeling each interaction will give you the same feeling that I had and the same longing to be a part of this special family.