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Harper Dance Center: Dancing Together in the Face of Adversity
Dancing is healing to the body, mind, and soul; something we have all needed especially in the past few years. Harper Dance Center (HDC) in Mashpee has been giving the gift of dance for nearly eleven years. Established in 2011 by Sheena Harper, the studio has seen hundreds of dancers over the years and currently has just over 180 students enrolled in classes. The studio offers classes in ballet, hip hop, lyrical, tap, and musical theater, and teaches students ages three and up. When asked why she opened the studio, Sheena explained, “I had taught at a bunch of other places and I thought to myself, ‘wow if all these places can run a studio so can I.’ I loved teaching and I wanted to create my own dancers from scratch.” From that moment on, the studio began to grow into something more beautiful than anyone could have ever foreseen. Throughout her interview, Sheena refers to her students and their families, staff, and teachers as the “HDC Family.” This phrase is very common at HDC; if you ask any dancer they will tell you it’s more than just a dance studio, it's a second home.
This is especially true for dancers on HDC’s competitive dance team, who have formed bonds that will last a lifetime. For many of those dancers they spend around ten hours per week at the studio both assisting in teaching classes and attending their own. Students and teachers alike spend such a vast amount of time at HDC that the studio’s impact reaches far beyond its home in Deer Crossing Plaza.
Young dancers are influenced by their teachers and fellow dancers at HDC and often grow up alongside each other. Sheena explains, “A normal teacher only sees a child for one year but I see these kids every year of their childhood.” Growing up at HDC has an immense impact on students because they are able to support and encourage their peers, as well as view each other’s progress as both dancers and human beings. Along with inciting positive waves in its students, HDC has impacted the local community on Cape Cod in a multitude of ways. For many years up until the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Sheena Harper and HDC facilitated the East Falmouth Dance program at the East Falmouth Elementary School. This program was run by high school students of HDC and overseen by staff from East Falmouth Elementary. Sheena commented that she “loved that one because kids who may have never danced overwise had the opportunity to.” At the end of each school year, the children that participated in in the East Falmouth Dance Program were able to perform on stage with the rest of HDC during the spring recital. A few select students at the end of each year were also given a scholarship to dance at HDC for the following year. Harper Dance Center has also taken part in Dance For A Cure, an event where dancers from many local studios congregate to raise cancer awareness; and Gardens Aglow at Heritage Museums and Gardens where dancers perform some holiday favorite Nutcracker variations.
HDC has had many highlights over its nearly eleven years; but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Around two years ago the COVID-19 pandemic hit and impacted everyone across the world. For Harper Dance Center this meant dance class took on a form that neither students nor teachers had ever experienced before. “Through COVID the community stayed together and did Zoom for 101 days,” Sheena stated. Dancers were confined to their bedrooms, living rooms, and basements as makeshift dance studios. For months, students rehearsed their spring recital dances in front of a screen until finally they were able to hold in-person class again in the late spring of 2020. Sheena, as well as the rest of the HDC staff gave the dancers an opportunity to perform in a recital that required an intense amount of hard work. This included traveling all over Cape Cod to film the dances and compiling all of them into a movie–all filmed and edited by Sheena’s husband Bryce Harper. Sheena added, “During the summer of 2020 we made a movie for our recital and played it at a drive-in, I think everyone needed that.” Students and their families were able to drive their cars to the Falmouth Drive-In to see their performance on the big screen after months of anticipation. When asked about the largest hurdle the pandemic brought to HDC, Sheena replied, “We saw some major downsizing but in a way it proved to me how truly strong our community is because so many people stuck by us despite the challenges.” Over the course of the interview Sheena could not stress enough what a strong and beautiful community HDC is and has been, shown especially through the perseverance of individuals during challenging times.
On a more personal note, Sheena revealed how deeply Harper Dance Center has impacted her; “As an artist it has given me the creative outlet to grow forever, I’ll never run out of ideas. My students inspire me so much and with each batch of new dancers I have more ideas. The side I never saw coming was all of the amazing relationships that blossom out of here. I feel like I have two families.” Sheena often says to her students, “I feel like I have never worked a day in my life.” Her passion for teaching and dance shine through in her choreography, innovative teaching style, and the great amounts of effort she puts into making HDC a beautiful, vibrant community. From 101 days of Zoom dance class, to pizza party sleepovers at the studio, (to post dance class interviews!) Sheena will do anything for her students and her positive attitude and dedication are contagious. There is not enough time nor enough words to describe everything that Sheena has given to HDC and her students. Everyone from the youngest dancers, to parents and families, all the way to alumni and proud members of the “Fossil Club” will agree that Harper Dance Center will forever remain a special part of their life. HDC is a labor of love on every level, and will continue to positively impact its community for a great many years to come.