Brock leading a rehearsal at his new residency center, Modern Accord Depot

John Abbott, Courtesy Chase Brock Experience

How Chase Brock Transformed a Turn-of-the-Century Train Depot into a Dance Residency Center

When choreographer Chase Brock and his husband, musician Rob Berman, first purchased a weekend home in Ulster County, New York, nearly 10 years ago, they immediately noticed a beautiful, turn-of-the-century train depot in the neighboring town of Accord.

"We would drive by and fantasize that there must be some big open room in there, without a pole, that would make a great studio," says Brock.


In 2017 an opportunity to purchase the historical building opened up, and Brock and Berman jumped.

A historic photograph of the depot on a wall in the redesigned building.

John Abbott, Courtesy Chase Brock Experience

The pair dove into the building's history.

The first time that Brock and Berman got a glimpse inside the depot, they fell in love with its charm and original features, like the intact ticket window and waiting room benches. "We said, 'We have no idea how we're going to do this, but we have to do this,'" says Brock.

After putting in an offer, their first stop was Accord's historical society, where they learned about the station's rich history. The depot was built in 1902 as a stop on the New York, Ontario and Western Railway. Until the 1930s, over 500 people would get off at the station each night on their way to vacation in the Hudson River Valley; during that period, the station master and his family lived in a small apartment upstairs. In 1935, the railroad converted to freight, and until the mid-1950s the depot was used as a loading area for stones from a nearby quarry. "Essentially it's had no major purpose between now and then," says Brock.

They did find out one surprising connection to dance history: Famed tap dancer Peg Leg Bates reportedly performed in the depot. "I don't know if he wore leather or taps, but it made me want to look at the original floor," says Brock.

The Modern Accord Depot

Brad Feinknopf, Courtesy Chase Brock Experience

The space will be a residency center for Brock and other artists.

Brock and Berman hired Hudson Valley-based architect Marica McKeel to help them bring the building into the 21st century, while continuing to honor its history.

From the onset, Brock's goal for the space was three-fold: He wanted it to be a designated space for his company to come live and work, a luxury Airbnb to help pay the bills, and a residency center to rent or share with artists.

After many frustrating years spent applying for grants and residencies for his company, the Chase Brock Experience, Brock is eager to simplify the process. "We're starting informally with artists we know, or letting people come to us with proposals," he says. "But we love the idea of reaching out to a choreographer or filmmaker or writer and saying, 'Hey, we really enjoy your work and want to offer you a residency.'"

Though he imagines the system might require formalization as time goes on, Brock is committed to creating a healthy ecosystem. "We might offer the space for free to a group of young dancers if they're willing to pay the cleaning fee, but then set a low rate for a more established theater collective," he says.

Chase Brock Experience rehearsing Brock's The Four Seasons

John Abbott, Courtesy Chase Brock Experience

The details are now designed for dancers.

Brock's colorful and quirky sense of style is evident throughout the building, now named Modern Accord Depot. It's designed to house eight people, "but if people are up for a summer camp adventure, you could really fit 14," he adds. The design pays tribute to the building's roots: Sleeping cubbies, complete with privacy curtains, individualized lighting and charging outlets are Brock's nod to sleeper cars on trains.

But for Brock, the real joy came when designing the studio of his dreams. Housed in the old baggage room, which was tacked on in 1914, McKeel and her team added enormous single-pane windows and a sprung floor and marley. "I am proud to say the only piece of this I did with my bare hands was installing the floor," adds Brock.

He also thought of small details only dancers would appreciate, like built-in shelves to place your laptop or notebook so it's off the floor during rehearsals. An original barn door separates the studio from the kitchen, and is designed to be left open during the day, allowing dancers to seamlessly take breaks. "The company can just meander into the kitchen and make tea or coffee," says Brock. "It's a very warm environment where you can go from the studio to the table and back to dance."

When CBE first utilized the space last fall, Brock was struck with how organic it felt: "It's so different than moving from space to space in New York City, paying your hourly rate and standing in the hallway during your break."

John Abbott, Courtesy Chase Brock Experience

Being out of town has its benefits.

Over his company's 12-year history, Brock has noticed that the pieces he's most proud of were made in residencies. "It's a different and deeper way of working," he says. "By cooking and eating and figuring out who's going to shower first, a company becomes a community."

But Brock knows that he's by no means the first choreographer to create a haven for dance outside of the hustle and bustle of city life. "Doug Varone lives down the street, and Stephen Petronio has a much larger residency center further upstate," he says. "Think of Bennington and Jacob's Pillow; working outside of the city has been a part of modern dance history in America since the beginning."

Brock's biggest surprise has been the town's response. "While we rehearsed, neighbors would drive by and stop to watch through the windows, or walk their dogs and stop to hang out," says Brock. It's urged him to find ways to give back to the community, like hosting works-in-process showings. "You realize that folks who live in this area are not used to seeing dancers at work, and it's actually shockingly powerful."

And though the depot is now open for business, there's still plenty more on Brock and Berman's to-do list. A previous owner purchased 100 feet of original track and a caboose from the old train line, and parked both in front of the building. Brock and Berman hope to turn the caboose into a sleeping space, complete with its own mini kitchen; perfect for a writer looking to get away. "It's become the visual totem of this place," says Brock. "It was about motion, and now it's about motion again."

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How Percussive Dancers Can Avoid Injury

Injury prevention is crucial for dancers. But compared to the resources focusing on dance styles like ballet, modern and contemporary, guidance for dancers specializing in percussive forms—for example, tap, flamenco or kathak—is arguably less common. What kinds of injuries tend to affect these dancers, and how can they be avoided?

What Are the Most Common Injuries?

Foot, knee and ankle ailments are common in percussive styles due to the repetitive and high-impact foot movements, says Sarah Plumer-Holzman, DPT, OCS, a physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital.

Plumer-Holzman often sees tendinopathy (chronic) or tendinitis (acute) of the peroneal or posterior tibial tendons, which are muscles that support the ankle joint. "Tendinitis is when it first happens and you have inflammation in the tendon," she says. "Tendinopathy is when it's been going on for about six weeks and the cells have started to change, and it becomes more chronic." Early treatment is key. "Usually, people wait until it becomes tendinopathy before they actually come and get help, and then it's a little harder to deal with."

Percussive dancers who train in a heeled shoe without properly stretching the calf muscles are prone to Achilles tendinitis, due to the constant contraction of the calves in a shortened position. "Those dancers can develop a lot of tightness in the calf, and the Achilles is what attaches your calf muscle to the bone on the heel," says Plumer-Holzman.

Working primarily in heeled shoes may also lead these dancers to experience plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissue connecting the toes to the heel bone. Ankle sprains—which typically stem from a traumatic event, rather than occurring gradually—are also a risk, since dancing in this type of shoe places the foot in a vulnerable position.

Though sometimes associated with dance styles involving a lot of jumping, stress reactions and fractures of the foot or lower leg can also affect percussive dancers. "Stress reactions are what happen before you have a fracture," says Plumer-Holzman. Bones are a very dynamic tissue that are constantly breaking down and rebuilding, and if an activity creates more breakdown than buildup, a bone can be weakened to the point of stress reaction or fracture formation.

Tap dancers are particularly susceptible to injuries in the kneecap, due to movements that require holding the hip and knee in a static position while the feet move quickly. This can create tightness in the quad and muscles attached to the IT band, which may lead to compression of the kneecap.

Ways You Can Stay Healthy

Professional Assessment

Visit a dance medicine specialist to get a sense of where you might be at risk for injury. The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries provides free injury-prevention assessments. "We look at a set of objective measures to see where they are out of the norm for a dancer," says Plumer-Holzman. "We're looking at, Does this dancer have the range of motion that they need for the dance form that they're doing? If the dancer doesn't have that range of motion, we need to address that. Then, we assess coordination. We take that information and create a program that addresses those deficits in that dancer."

Foot Care

"Wear supportive footwear, like a good walking shoe that has arch support, so that when you're not stressing your feet with dance, your feet are taken care of," says Plumer-Holzman. "If you can't afford to buy an expensive pair of shoes that gives you optimal arch support, you can look at some kind of good insert to put in a flat shoe." Also, she notes, make sure the shoes you're dancing in fit well.

Warm-Up

Give yourself time to properly warm up before rehearsals, classes and informal practice sessions. "In ballet and contemporary dance, there's more of a warm-up built into any class you would take that goes through a broad range of motion," says Plumer-Holzman. "Percussive dancers should make sure to still get a diverse warm-up before they dance. That helps them to stay conditioned, and can be part of their cross-training."

Go through the full range of motion of your body, focusing on the ankles, knees and hips. "Steer clear of just stretching beforehand," Plumer-Holzman advises. "Stretching is not a warm-up; that is something to save for your cooldown."

"A lot of the work that percussive dancers do requires a tremendous amount of core strength to allow for the legs to move so quickly, because they need a good, stable base to move from," Plumer-Holzman adds. To strengthen and prepare the core for movement prior to a class, rehearsal or performance, she recommends activating your abdominal muscles while moving your legs, to help with trunk stability. A suggested exercise is to lie on your back with your feet on the floor, drawing your navel to your spine and marching your legs without moving your pelvis.

Plumer-Holzman also suggests bridging to activate the core and glutes while lengthening the quads. From the same position as described in the marching exercise, press your hips upward into a bridge without arching your back. "Any exercises that focus on the abdominals, glutes, hip abductors, hip rotators can really help wake muscles up and get you ready to be active," she says.

After working against the floor while lying down, Plumer-Holzman advises transitioning to a standing position. "Something where you're moving through the spine, even if there isn't as much spinal motion as you might see in other dance forms, but you certainly need to move through motions of the spine to fully warm the body up," she says. She also suggests movements such as knee bends, heel raises, pliés, elevés and tendus to help warm larger muscle groups and begin working on coordination. To further warm up the feet, knees and hips, Plumer-Holzman recommends a light jog or other form of moderate aerobic activity.

Cooldown

For an appropriate cooldown, stretch and find a way to relax the muscles you've used the most in your dancing. "The type of movement required of, say, a tap dancer, where there is a lot of very dynamic, fast movement, can develop a lot of tightness in the calves," says Plumer-Holzman. It is important to stretch the quads and hip flexors after a class or rehearsal to help minimize the tension that can develop from training.

Cross-Training

An aerobic workout—if only two or three times per week for 20 to 30 minutes—is important to offset the start-and-stop pattern of most dance classes, rehearsals and performances, says Plumer-Holzman. "You need to have 20 minutes of elevated heart rate to get the aerobic benefits," she says. Bike riding, running and fast walking can be beneficial options for dancers.

January 2021