National Dance Institute’s At The River’s Edge

by Michael Mahany | 6/22/2018 6:20 PM

National Dance Institute’s At The River’s Edge. Photo Credit: Eduardo Patino, NYC


“Backstage our costume designer is still sewing,” Kelly Buwalda, director of National Dance Institute’s Event Of The Year, At The River’s Edge, told a sold out audience last Sunday afternoon at NYU’s Skirball Center. “[Lynn Hippen] sews about 500 costumes on her own, and she’s back there sewing so that every child feels beautiful and looks beautiful.”


NDI’s focus on its students success is always evident through the substantial work the Institute does to share, celebrate, and promote arts education, but the focus on Sunday and Monday was all about the performance.


Hundreds of cheery and enthusiastic students from the Institute’s Celebration Team, SWAT Team, and First Team took the Skirball Stage to share with an audience of parents, supporters, and newcomers the relevance and power of dance and arts education existing in New York City’s Public School— through NDI.


By way of this year’s theme, students throughout NDI’s New York City programming were not only exposed to dance and choreography inspired by “rivers”, but to science and education about specific eco-systems, different water-ways and the planet’s water cycle, as well.


“We began to more intimately understand some of the most ancient civilizations and to think deeply about the drinking water that flows from our tap today,” Buwalda said in her director’s statement.


Related Story: An Interview with the Creators of NDI's "Dream Project"


NDI’s At The River’s Edge. Photo Credit: Eduardo Patino, NYC


Students on NDI’s Celebration and SWAT performance teams were treated to a visit from a New York State environmental conservationist, who brought along some baby eels that had migrated from the Caribbean.


“Throughout May and June, entire school communities were treated to exuberant performances by their students, the culmination of our year-long program,” Artistic Director Ellen Weinstein wrote.


National Dance Institute serves over 6,500 students in New York City’s public school system, and more than 38,000 globally through its thirteen satellite programs located throughout the US, Shanghai, and Lebanon. All of NDI’s programming is free of charge to students.



The performance Sunday afternoon provided the audience with a wide array of choreography inspirations, music styles, and, most importantly, entertainingly talented and amazing kids.


“Our outcomes constantly show the effectiveness of our programs in enhancing the lives of children,” Traci Lester, Executive Director of NDI said. “We want to be intentional about our impact and our reach, and we want to remain inclusive in our program design as we grow to connect with the ever-changing landscape of children and families around us… we are thrilled 

to continue to provide top-quality programming to children from all backgrounds.”


Kay Gayner, who along with Pediatric Physical Therapist Agnes McConlogue Ferro created of NDI’s renowned D.R.E.A.M. Project, served as the Assistant Director of the event, and choreographed three of the production’s numbers.


The D.R.E.A.M. Project— which stands for ‘Dancers Realize Excellence through Arts and Movement’— “partners children with and without disabilities in a joyful celebration of movement, music, and the arts” through week-long workshops, that now, thanks to a recent grant, transpire twice a year.


Watch: A Dance Network Interview With D.R.E.A.M. Project Creators Kay Gayner and Agnes McConlogue Ferro


NDI’s At The River’s Edge. Photo Credit: Eduardo Patino, NYC


Event director Buwalda choreographed four of the program’s fourteen production numbers that included everything from popular music hits to original compositions and arrangements by NDI Associate Music Director Yakir Ben-Hur. Through both comic effect and thought provoking dramatic depth, every number was specific in its intention. Issues stemming from the conservation of natural resources to the consequences of pollution— even one number tackling the Flint, Michigan water crisis, all had a place on the evening’s bill.


Other choreographers who set dances for the evening were: Calia Marshall, Emily Meisner, Mary Kennedy, Jen Aks-Neuman, Tracy Straus, and Bianca Johnson.



NDI’s At The River’s Edge. Photo Credit: Eduardo Patino, NYC


National Dance Institute was founded by former New York City Ballet icon Jacques d’Amboise in 1976  on “the belief that the arts have a unique power to engage all children—regardless of background, ability, or socioeconomic status—and motivate them toward excellence.”


For more on NDI, its programs, and how to donate to their funding, visit


Michael Mahany is a writer, host, and serves as the New York City Correspondent for Dance Network. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Keep Reading