Dance teacher reflects on career shared with community
SOMERSWORTH, N.H. (AP) — Christine Hounsell believes in movement - as something to help one deal with the stresses of life, tell a story, and share with the community.
Most recently the executive director at Sole City Dance in Somersworth, Hounsell’s dancing career has spanned almost 50 years, starting when she was a young girl, continuing as a student at the University of New Hampshire, and a long-time teacher of the craft.
“Movement has always been a release,” Hounsell said. “If you want to tell a story that’s important to you, it can help you through the stresses of life.”
As Hounsell prepares to step away later this year from the full-time grind of teaching dance after 30 years, she recently reflected on her career and the extraordinary effort she’s made to share her favorite art form with the youth of the Rochester area.
“I was always good at tap dancing,” said Hounsell, when asked how she transitioned from just liking to dance to dedicating her life’s work to the art form. “I came to absolutely love the music of the 30s and 40s. It sort of happened slowly, that I became really interested in that style and the history of it, and the music.”
Hounsell studied tap and ballet around age 7 and continued but stopped dancing in high school. As a junior at UNH in the early 1980s, Hounsell enrolled in a dance class, but only, as she put it, to help deal with the everyday stresses of college life.
“Figuring what to do with one’s life when you’re 20 can be complicated,” she said.
While at UNH, she started working in Methuen, Massachusetts, at a dance class for emotionally disturbed boys.
“I love working with children, and I come from a family of educators,” she said.
From there, Hounsell’s teaching career took off. After college, she went to work at a gymnastics school in Rochester, which was in the same building as a dance studio.
“It was being used off and on by different people to teach classes,” she said. “I enjoyed gymnastics but I knew I had to be involved in more expressive forms of movement.”
So she asked if she could teach a class at the dance studio, which she remembered as a “big, beautiful ballroom.” In 1991, she started her own school, titled Rochester Movement Arts.
“I was the owner and operator,” she said. “I did everything.”
The school soon grew out of its space and moved to a nearby shopping center.
“It wasn’t big and beautiful, but we had better parking,” Hounsell said with a laugh.
The business continued to grow through the 1990s. It added music and art teachers and became the Rochester Creative Arts Center. In the early 2000s, she donated the business to a nonprofit called Arts Rochester.
“I always wanted it to be a nonprofit,” Hounsell said. “I prefer to work collaboratively. I don’t like being ‘the boss.’ I like to have input from others, to find multiple solutions to problems.”
Arts Rochester moved to the Gonic Mills in 2004, but sustained heavy damage during the Mother’s Day floods of 2006.
“That wasn’t fun,” Hounsell said. “The people in the community were very generous. Someone donated a new tap floor. Our pianos were damaged and our sound equipment. It was nasty. We had to take out all the carpet and the drywall.”
A year later, there was another four feet of water in the studio thanks to another flood.
“That second flood was worse,” Hounsell said. “We were exhausted and we couldn’t rebuild again, or we were all going to crack up.”
Arts Rochester then moved into a much smaller space at the Rochester Community Center and returned to just focusing on dance. The stress of rebuilding was taking its toll.
“It was extremely stressful,” Hounsell said. “I lost 20 pounds, I was so stressed out. I forgot to eat. I couldn’t sleep.”
After taking a couple of years off to recuperate, Hounsell decided to give it one more go. Now focusing on dance only, Arts Rochester changed its name in 2009 to Sole City Dance and in 2014 moved into a new studio on Route 108 in Somersworth.
Two years later, Hounsell encountered a new challenge when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which has affected her ability to teach dance to children.
“I can’t teach regular dance classes anymore,” she said. “I can’t demonstrate or move as big as I need to and want to. My movement abilities are different now.”
Hounsell hopes to continue to teach, however. She said she hopes to work with the nonprofit Dance for PD, which offers dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease.
“I can still move pretty well,” Hounsell said. “Movement and exercise is one of the most important things a Parkinson’s patient can do.”
As long as she lives in the area, Hounsell said, she plans to be involved with Sole City Dance, just not as executive director. The studio, which does not participate in competitions, will continue to contribute to the Rochester Opera House’s annual rendition of “The Nutcracker.” A ballet performance of “Cinderella” is slated for later this year.
“I can’t imagine not sticking my fingers in there, giving my little words of wisdom,” she said. “Just tiny pieces, continuing to be an ambassador for the program.”
She will continue to believe in the power of dance.
“It keeps kids off screens and in their bodies, aware of health and culture,” Hounsell said. “Skills that are important in the world today - creativity, collaboration - they can find it in dance.”
Information from: Foster’s Daily Democrat, http://www.fosters.com