The Providence Dance Project

10 Feet

Isaiah Providence balances on the noses of his beat-up Chucks under the lights of the Temple Street Garage. He locks and pops and ripples, his four nephews dancing in kind along with him. After a few flips, gainers and other aerials, the music stops, the crowd cheers and tips flutter into the bucket.

Members of the Providence Dance Project perform this New York-style street show every Saturday night from 9 to 11 p.m. on the southeast corner of Crown and Temple. Founded in 2013, PDP has performed at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and snagged a scholarship to the Broadway Dance Center’s winter workshop at last year’s Brooklyn Dance Festival. The nephews are still young—the oldest is 17, the youngest eight—but they’re learning fast. “They always looked up to me, they still do,” Providence says, who’s only 20 years old himself.

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And they have a lot to look up to. At the age of 14, Providence earned his black belt in karate, and at about the same time he started training in dance. Four years later, using a mix of the two, he made it to the callback phase, known to fans as “Vegas Week,” on the TV program So You Think You Can Dance. This year, he co-founded Higher Movement, a dance and self-defense studio in Meriden, and celebrated the birth of a daughter.

Dancing on the sidewalk is a relatively new step in Providence’s relationship with the streets. He grew up among some of New Haven’s rougher neighborhoods, moving from “The Ville” to “The Tribe,” then to The Hill and Fair Haven. He and his brother would ride their bikes to Exit 8 on I-91 and jump rooftop to rooftop along the Bishop Woods School complex. “We used to hear people yell out from the windows—‘We’re going to call the cops!’—and we’d jump off the roof,” a two-story drop.

But that’s the wildest he and his brother ever got, he says. They grew up in choppy waters but were never dragged under. “My father was into that lifestyle when he was my age. He didn’t want that for us.” His father ensured Providence and his brother stuck together, enrolling them at their uncle’s martial arts studio in part to keep them busy and out of trouble.

Providence has 15 years of karate under his belt, which, along the way, would give him an edge on the dance floor. He didn’t take dancing seriously at first, lip-syncing to pop songs and wriggling around like so many ’tweens and teens. But eventually, moving to a beat moved something in him. A middle school student at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School at the time, Providence transferred from a theater emphasis to one in dance.

Matriculating for high school at Educational Center for the Arts high, he began training in modern dance, adding contemporary, ballet and jazz techniques to his repertoire. It was encouragement from former classmate and fellow PDPer Kirby Shields, as well as her mother Kara Shields, that led Providence to audition for the 10th season of So You Think You Can Dance.

His dancing also got him consideration at Adelphi University, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Long Island University. But while Providence had the moves for all of them, he didn’t quite have the grades. It was only the second half of his junior year at ECA, around the time that he became interested in the Bible, that he started taking school seriously. “There was definitely a link,” Providence says. “I was tired of being a hypocrite. I knew right from wrong but I didn’t partake in the right,” he says, adding, “I started taking everything seriously so I could be alright in life.”

From that point forward he was an honor roll student. It was enough to get him accepted to LIU, but Gateway Community College proved more financially feasible. At Gateway, Providence discovered an apathy for his initial career track, railroad engineering, and a love for working with children. He now works at the Foote School as an after-school teacher for third-graders, on top of that raising two aforementioned newborns: six-month-old daughter, Leah, and two-month-old studio Higher Movement.

But every Saturday, weather permitting, Providence still makes time for his nephews. Some of the money that goes into the troupe’s tip bucket pays for uniforms and dance classes for them, and, eventually, for train fare to New York City, where the Providence Dance Project plans to make its debut in the near future.

It’s a new move for Providence and the PDP, but what else is new?

The Providence Dance Project
performing Saturdays, 9-11pm, at Temple and Crown Streets (map)
(203) 915-9777 |
Website | Facebook | Youtube

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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