Jacob’s Pillow is building community beyond the stage with various classes open to the public, from Pilates to Zumba.
Twenty years ago, Mikhail Baryshnikov invaded the quiet woods of Becket, Massachusetts, sweeping everyone off their feet with his fame and physique. The Latvian-born, Russian-bred god of dance added yet another layer of hard sparkle to the already gleaming stage of the now 80-year-old Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. But awe sometimes inspires alienation and soon after that auspicious visit, the Pillow recognized the need to create more connective tissue with the outliers and non-aficionados of dance.
“Dance is the least experienced of all the art forms,” says Education Director J.R. Glover. “I just felt like we should open it up, the whole thing, to the community. We’re making points of entry.”
For $8 a pop, anyone can swing by during the summer season to experience the morning classes (once open only to interns and staff), Monday through Friday. The demographic is as varied as the offerings themselves, which range from Pilates to ballet to Zumba. It’s quiet on the wooded campus and the grass is still wet when 62-year-old Linda Bacon, a veteran class participant, emerges from the studio.
“When I first started taking the classes I was concerned about ‘was I wearing the right attire, did I fit in?’” she says. “But I don’t feel intimidated. There are a lot of interns who take the classes and some are just gorgeous dancers. I feel inspired by that. Nobody’s laughing at me.”
The morning classes are a steal. And they’re pretty packed, especially when you have instructors like choreographer Adam Weinert leading floor exercises. At night — 6:15-7 p.m. before the headliners — the Inside/Out series invites everyone, free of charge, to take a seat on a log and watch all manner of movers — hip hop artists, tango queens — whisk across the giant outdoor stage. People eat sandwiches, some drink wine, children stand off to the side and try to mimic the dancers, who are moving against the backdrop of a wooded vista.
“I have a bench outside my office, and I love watching who sits on that bench and who comes down that grand path — teachers, parents with little kids, young people,” says Glover. “It just takes the introduction, then they come back. They love the informality.”
As night wears on, and the Baryshnikovs of today’s dance world leave the main stage, the line between watchers and watched continues to blur and smudge. At the Pillow Pub, a sturdier version of a tiki bar, dancers have changed into civilian garb and they mingle with late-stayers and shy ‘groupies’ sipping beer and swatting mosquitoes. Suddenly, impulsivity takes hold. Tables are pushed aside, flamenco guitarists begin to play feverishly and an epic jam session ensues. And yes, everybody’s dancing.