Originally published in Sunpost on July 14, 2011
Late last Monday night, at the Peaches Dance and Music studios in North Miami, four dancers ran in circles around a broom stuck in a bucket on top of a chair in the center of a rehearsal room. They were practicing “Ghost Light,” the opening piece in an upcoming performance by Next Step Dance.
“A ‘ghost light’ is the light in the center of the stage that’s left on after everything is turned off,” explains William Crowley, artistic director of Next Step Dance. The lamp lights the way for the last person out of the theater and greets the first person in the next day. “But there are also stories about performers who have passed on coming back at night when no one else is there,” Crowley adds.
His dancers represent those spirits, reaching out toward the light, then frolicking across the floor before disappearing again.
“Ghost Light” is part of the repertory Crowley has choreographed for Next Step over the past eight years.
When the choreographer moved to Miami to teach at the New World School of the Arts in 2000, he felt like he had arrived on an empty stage. “At the time, there wasn’t a lot going on in terms of contemporary dance,” he recalls.
Crowley saw that as an opportunity to make his mark with his own company. “Instead of someone else doing it, why not me?” he remembers asking himself.
Turns out, a number of choreographers were asking themselves the same question, leading around the same time to the founding of troupes like the Miami Contemporary Dance Company and Dance Now! Ensemble.
Next Step Dance is based in Miami too — but the company’s main gig is in Broward. Crowley rehearses in North Miami and lives in Bay Harbor Islands. He established himself as a teacher in Miami, moving from New World to Miami Dade College to Barry University to University of Miami and next year to Florida International University.
But if audiences want to see his company perform, they have to trek up to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, where Next Step presents an annual summer show. While most Miami companies present during the “season” that begins in the fall and ends in the spring, Crowley squeezes Next Step productions into his summer vacations from teaching.
“I think that’s a healthier approach both for me and the company, because they have my complete attention,” Crowley says.
Next Step’s relationship with the Broward Center has grown gradually over the years. In fact, Crowley founded Next Step when a colleague from Miami Dade College invited him to present an informal evening of dance with her in the Broward Center studio.
The first year, there was no lighting, no stage, and a few friends in the audience. Next Step returned, bringing in a few lights, then a makeshift stage. Within four years, they were turning away fans at the door. Crowley remembers the Broward Center management proposing to “take a leap of faith” and inviting Next Step to perform the following year in the 600-seat Amaturo Theater. The company has returned each summer since.
“I’ve never seen an organization so on top of things,” Crowley gushes, with an enthusiasm rarely heard when small dance companies talk about venues. “They make sure every detail is taken care of from publicity to all aspects of putting a production together. You can’t walk away from that. That’s a gift from the gods.”
Next Step Dance presents “Evolution” at 8pm on Saturday, July 23 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $26.50. Call 954-462-0222 or visit www.nextstepdance.org.