Future of NJ dance school in limbo more than a month after Ida flood closed
Tears began to flow as Allison Stowell reflected on the loss of Main Street Dance & Music, a dance school and studio in Manville that was flooded during Tropical Storm Ida.
Namely, what it meant for her 6 year old daughter, Peighton.
“I want her to do what she loves,” Stowell said, crying. “And I want her to do it in a safe space with people pouring into her… defending her.” She got it in Main Street.
The South Bound Brook resident is one of many residents devastated by the sudden closure of South Main Street School, which in September marked 16 years since its launch and a decade at its current location.
Manville was among the boroughs that suffered the brunt of Ida’s impact after heavy rains pushed the Raritan River to record levels. It is also one of the entertainment venues in New Jersey – already reeling from COVID-19 closures – which has been forced to cancel its post-pandemic reopening when floodwaters from the September 1 storm caused damage to property.
Additionally, Main Street Dance & Music is one of hundreds of businesses in the state flooded by the remains of Ida and Tropical Storm Henry that used rented storefronts and offices. The volatile post-storm situation has put many businesses in a difficult position as they either have to wait for their owners to clean and renovate their buildings or seek new locations to reopen their stores.
Julie Barbieri, owner of the studio and dance school, said the property manager and owner had not started cleaning up the space for more than a month after seven feet of water flooded the school and the 75-seat black box theater.
The mold spread to the walls and stormwater, which was never pumped, seeped into the floors, she said.
Barbieri noted that she had lost dozens of dancing shoes and hundreds of dollars in instruments and other equipment.
Enter space, according to Barbieri, is nearly impossible without a face mask due to the smell and potential health hazards.
“Looks like someone threw buckets of black paint on the wall. The mold is only growing and since the water was never purposely removed there were large puddles in space as late as last week, ”said Barbieri. “Pergo floors are spongy so when you walk you feel soft (on your shoes).”
The school has welcomed more than 100 students of all ages, including Cecilia, Barbieri’s 4-year-old daughter, who calls herself the school’s official “assistant”.
“It was also my happy place. No matter what was going on in life, when I was teaching a class there, I couldn’t do it without smiling. So that was like my outlet, ”said Barbieri, who lives near the school in Hillsborough. “I know a lot of people lost their homes… and for a while I felt guilty and upset about it. I’m thankful it wasn’t my home, but Main Street was my baby.
The property manager did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Barbieri, who only communicated with her owner through the property manager, said on Friday that she received a response after more than a month of communication. Despite a number of questions, the owner only briefly indicated that he would be rebuilding the school and having it back up and running before Thanksgiving, she said. However, Barbieri said she doubts this timeline due to the owner’s lack of correspondence and actions so far.
She hasn’t decided if she can commit to a reopening date given the state of damage to her space, she said.
The current situation Barbieri finds itself in contrasts sharply with that of autumn 2011. A month after its arrival in Manville space, it was flooded during Hurricane Irene.
“At the time, it was a different owner and I was back in business in less than two weeks. They installed fans and pumps, pumped out all the water… put all my walls up, repainted and put the floors back in place. said Barbieri. “Unfortunately, about four or five years ago, the owner sold to someone else.”
Barbieri said she didn’t speak to the new owner because she couldn’t get in touch. When asked by Barbieri if she could get in touch with the owner, the property manager told her on Wednesday that he couldn’t provide the owner’s phone number and said he would forward an email asking for more. information.
She said she recently learned that tenants upstairs in her studio had been told to move by the fire marshal due to conditions after the storm – another development that makes her suspicious of assurances that the rebuilding will take place.
Over the past month – due to the school’s uncertain future – Barbieri implored students to find dance lessons elsewhere while she reassesses.
Stowell, the mother of South Bound Brook who herself recently started tap dancing lessons at Main Street Dance & Music, said her daughter – who loves ballet – has enrolled in classes at another school.
“It was a tough decision, but my daughter’s plan is to dance there until Main Street opens again. She told me herself, ”Stowell said.
Barbieri said that since the closure, she has held outdoor toddler classes at small community parks. She has also taught online classes through Zoom. This week, she was delighted to hear that her 11-year-old son’s karate instructor, Santino, wanted to help her.
Kyle Freeman, the karate master and owner of Freedom Martial Arts Schools in Bridgewater and Hillsborough, told Barbieri she can use her spaces for classes for free while she coordinates more permanent plans.
“Julie is a great human being and you can see that when Ida got through what happened with COVID, it took her breath away. It was devastating, ”Freeman said. “I knew she was taking classes at the park, but knowing that we had the time and space available here, we wanted to help her get things going.”
Freeman noted that, like many businesses in Somerset County, Freedom Martial Arts “took water” at its sites in the wake of Ida. However, since both spaces avoided significant flood damage, he wanted to lend a hand to Main Street Dance & Music, which was not so fortunate, he said.
As Barbieri struggled in the aftermath of the storm, she said she remained optimistic and continued to rejoice in having organized the few classes she could.
A small group gathered in a Colorado Avenue park in Manville earlier this week for their “Rhythm and Rhyme” toddler class.
“There were jumps, applause and dancing,” Barbieri said with a laugh. “We sang ‘If you’re happy and you know it!’ and I took out the bubble machine … it was a good time.
To help Main Street Dance & Music, you can buy from Barbieri’s online store by visiting tap-it-out.creator-spring.com/.
You can also sign up for a Zoom dance class on the theater’s Facebook page at facebook.com/MainStreetDanceofManvilleNewJersey.
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Steven Rodas can be reached at [email protected].