DANBURY, Conn. — "If you build it, they will come:" The owner and creative director of A Common Ground in Danbury lives that philosophy from the movie "Field Of Dreams."
And they did come when Danbury native Jill Hancock, a lifelong dancer, opened the community center in 1999 to provide the downtown area with a rich array of the arts.
Hancock, who grew up taking classes at the Ona-May School of Dance, later studied dance in New York City, belonged to several dance companies and worked as a choreographer.
“Instead of just opening a dance school, which is my background, I wanted to open a center that included all of the arts," Hancock told Daily Voice. "We offer music, theater and dance classes of all kinds, from yoga, fitness classes, and that sort. I do a gallery in the studio for visual artists. We also have live music once a month at the studio. And at the end of the school we have one recital for all of it."
Her classes, on average, cost just $11 each, a steal in this region. She offers about 60 classes, including African drumming, Hula and Salsa dancing, and even Hula-Hoop for fitness and American Sign Language.
But she is seeing fewer and fewer registrants in recent years. A Mommy & Me Yoga class offered recently had no takers even though “it cost just $8,” she said.
“I would like the community to take advantage of what I’m offering,” she told Daily Voice.
It's a labor of love for Hancock. “I haven’t paid myself in 19 years,” she said.
“We first operated at the Elks Lodge until the building sold 10 years later. That’s when I moved here,“ Hancock said of the 33 Crosby St. location, which has ample parking.
But despite recent hardships, she's determined to keep going and has begun to spread the word that A Common Ground needs help.
A funding campaign is "in the works," said Hancock whose business also offers space for community events, music instruction and even birthday parties.
“It’s always been what I love and what I share with the community. It’s a great little downtown space. ... I had enough business to support when I moved here," she said.
Within months of arriving on Crosby Street, however, water was seeping into the building.
At the sane time, “One of my teachers who had been teaching a significant amount of classes left without warning."
But Hancock pressed on, like she's doing now.
" I have a lot of faith in what I do. Things will get better."
But she can't argue with the fact that "my student base is shrinking." Hancock said one reason is that kids aren't sticking with dance classes like they did in the past.
Recently, Hancock hosted a potluck at A Common Ground for family, friends and community members. Guests recorded testimonials about how the center has made a difference in the past 19 years. An online fundraiser will follow, she said.
Melissa Just, a Newtown mother of four, says her family loves going to A Common Ground every week.
"My daughter and son, 6 and 8, are in acrobatics, and my son, 10, is in theater," said Just, who stuck with the classes at A Common Ground after moving from Danbury.
"We still drive every week to A Common Ground because it's very important to take the children somewhere that's not going to be a competitive dance studio and have to spend [a lot of money] on classes and costumes,” she said.
Calling it “laid back,” A Common Ground is a comfortable spot for her family, said Just, who likes the collective recital for all the arts programs in June.
“I love it. It's a really community arts center," she said. "It's different from any other dance studio in the area. It’s not competitive. The vibe there is just welcoming."