Visual artist, professional dancer help people enjoy the arts outdoors

Through dance classes and an outdoor 'gallery'
Susan Barczak, left, in Niskayuna and Beth Jacobs in Central Park in their outdoor pursuits.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Susan Barczak, left, in Niskayuna and Beth Jacobs in Central Park in their outdoor pursuits.

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

While the Capital Region is slowly beginning to re-open, plenty of arts organizations remain physically closed, including everything from dance studios to museums. 

Two local creatives — one visual artist and one professional dancer — have tried to offset the impact of the closures over the last few months, continuing to bring art and dance into their communities.

Dance Out
Beth Jacobs is used to teaching dance in different settings. She’s taught modern at colleges, local YMCAs, Quest Schenectady and throughout the Capital Region. 

Until this spring, though, she’d never taught in a park.

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“I’m teaching this class to try to keep my students and myself a little bit in shape,” Jacobs said. 

A few times a month, she and a few of her students get together in Schenectady’s Central Park to run through a few of the things they’d covered in class and just to get a bit of exercise. To adhere to social distancing rules, they stay at least six feet apart from each other.

“It is very relaxing and it is a nice outlet. It’s just something that you [can] do by yourself or with a friend and it’s good [for] stretching [and] is great to stay in shape,” said Shari Cuomo. 

The Rotterdam resident started taking dance classes with Jacobs last year through SUNY Schenectady’s Community Education program. 


“I had never taken a dance class but it just seemed like something fun. It was one night a week in the evening so a friend of mine and I decided to do it,” Cuomo said. 

This spring’s session of classes at SUNY Schenectady was interrupted by COVID-19 and the class had to stop meeting regularly.

However, Jacobs told students that she’d gladly meet them in Central Park and run classes there free of charge. 

“Beth invites people in the park to join in. It’s a freebie. I should think that more people would really like to go up there and participate,” said Tommy Lynn Trotter of Schenectady. 

“It’s not like she’s a strenuous teacher. She’s not that demanding. She’s very considerate. You only do what you can do.” 

She’s been taking classes with Jacobs for several years and has a background in ballroom and modern dance. Getting out to the park for Trotter and others is another way to stay active during this time of isolation. 

“I’m taking whatever students are willing to come out there and meeting when the weather’s nice to go through classwork,” Jacobs said. 

Her dance career started at a young age at the Schenectady YMCA. She continued studying it throughout her life across the country, attending the San Francisco School of Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, The School at Steps on Broadway, the Paul Taylor Dance Company and others. She also danced with several companies in New York City and the Albany Berkshire Ballet.

A back injury initially brought her back to the Capital Region, where she’s been teaching for over a decade. Her style is informed by Lester Horton, a popular modern dance figure of the 20th century.

This summer, she’ll be teaching virtual classes via SUNY Schenectady, and depending on whether or not the ban on gatherings is lifted, she’s hoping to be able to offer free dance classes to children through Quest Schenectady, a nonprofit which her mother, Judy Atchinson, runs. 

As long as the weather is nice and dance studios remain closed, she’ll continue to meet with some students in the park, usually on weekend afternoons. Jacobs also invites people who aren’t her students to join.

“There’s so much room. We can stay a good distance apart, and I just felt like it’s a nice thing to do,” Jacobs said. 

Art walk
Niskayuna residents in Susan Barczak’s neighborhood get a bit of art education in their daily walks now. 

Over a month ago, the artist displayed an original painting on an easel in front of her home on Antonia Drive.  

“Since everybody has been totally cooped up and going nuts, I was like ‘Let me just put one out and then people that walk by can enjoy the art,’” Barczak said. 

Each day since then, she’s displayed a different painting or piece of artwork. Recently, she set out an idyllic landscape painting of a winding body of water on a sunny day. Other days, she’s displayed layered paintings of flowers or chilly mountainous landscapes. 

Couples often stop and discuss her work on their walks around the neighborhood, and kids especially seem to love seeing the work. 

“What I’ve found is the children really respond to it. So it’s a little art education for the kids. They look forward to coming back every day to see what’s new. It’s been a lot of fun,” Barczak said. 

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“I’ve put one out every day so that people can have a little bit of exposure to art because you can’t go to art museums or exhibits or concerts or anything.”

Barczak has been painting and working in ceramics for many years. She studied art education at SUNY New Paltz and was an art teacher before retiring. Since then she’s participated in many local arts groups, like the Colonie Art League and the Schenectady Art Association. 

Last year, she won Niskayuna’s Art Out competition and was supposed to have an exhibition of her work this spring at Town Hall, though it was postponed due to COVID-19. Instead, she’s holding an art show each day, calling it an “Artwalk” project. 

While she has enough original art work to continue displaying different pieces of art for at least another month or so, she’s been working on new paintings and new ceramics so she won’t run out. 

“It’s been a very positive thing. I [get] comments from people and little notes from kids; they’ll leave a little note on my easel. That’s so cute,” Barczak said. 

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