What began as an incredibly small class within a Westchester basement has blossomed over the past three decades into one of Scarsdale’s longest-running businesses. Founded by Maria Bai and Mario LaStrada, Central Park Dance has expanded thanks to some smart decisions on the park of its owners.
“Central Park Dance started with a small class of five or six students in the basement of the Zion Episcopalian Church. My sister’s two daughters and their friends were taking a ballet class there and their teacher at the time had left,” says Bai. “My sister asked me if I would teach the girls and I never stopped. I started to develop my own classes and programs. I met my husband a few years later, and together we opened Central Park Dance on Central Park Avenue in Scarsdale.”
One way in which the company has remained on top has been constant change. “We are always evolving,” notes Bai. “We constantly strive to develop new programs for our students — both children and adults — that will enhance their education and passion, while continuing to bring their training to the next level. No matter what the goals or the physical capacities, we work hard to provide the resources where each dancer can reach their own personal potential.”
This location is yet another part of the school’s success. Bai feels that Westchester understands the benefits of a dance education. “Programs for children thrive in Westchester,” she says. “Parents want to provide an education of discipline, confidence, and self-awareness, along with the many benefits of growing and learning an art form.”
Central Park Avenue was particularly ideal, as LaStrada and Bai wanted a central location easily accessible to most southern Westchester towns. “We wanted to make sure it was easy for our Dobbs Ferry students to get to, but also be a dance home where families from surrounding towns would find convenient too,” adds Bai.
Founders Maria Bai and Mario LaStrada
Diversification is another major component of CPD’s lasting success. Over the years, LaStrada and Bai have developed a wide level of classes and styles to ensure the best education for their students. Central Park Dance now has programs for both recreational dancers as well as elite-level students. “Both are given the opportunities to be a part of any or all of our companies: Ballet, Signature (jazz) and Remixx (hip-hop),” says Bai. “These companies provide all our students with a performance education studying under the likes of many reputable and renowned teachers and choreographers in the industry.”
The school also provides three different scholarships as well as an adult program, which is actually a holdover from its days in the basement of the Zion Church. “[Our] adult program is one of the largest Adult Dance Programs in Westchester, providing a wide curriculum in ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap, hip-hop, Latin, and belly dance in addition to a strong program of fitness classes including Jazzercise,” notes Bai. “Adult Open professional ballet classes are offered seven days a week. With an increasing student body, we are able to support more than 200 classes a week through our four state-of-the-art studios.”
Through evolution, location, and diversification, Bai and LaStrada have enjoyed long running success with their school. However, above all, compassion for their students has been the company’s true driving force, they say. “We both believe in kindness, love and positivity,” says Bai. “Our motto has always been ‘Where every student is special,’ and we are on our third generation now. Our students, whether they move on to a professional dance career or not, continue to hold a special place for Central Park Dance as we do with them. Some of them have stayed in touch and now have their own children in classes here.”