Interview with November Artist of the Month, Deborah Mason Dudley as told to Kerri Kemperman.
Congratulations on your recent book, Life Is But A Dance! How did it come about, and what was the writing and publishing experience like for you?
Thank you so much! Writing the history of Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center came about first, when I was once again forced to move for the sixth time in 40 years of running the school. I thought it was very important for the community at large to understand the difficulties of running a small business as a woman and also as an artist. The perseverance and determination to continue to do what I loved, which is to train dancers, was a big part of my story. I hope you get a chance to read it.
Tell us a bit about your background, both in a general and artistic sense. How and when did you first discover your love of dance?
I grew up in East Cambridge, went to school there, and danced at the local dance studio: Adrienne Miller’s School of Dance. I grew up around musicians and artists of all genres. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, lived on Durham Street in Somerville and we visited every Friday night and the family would all gather, playing guitar and piano, singing and dancing all night long. My uncle was a major musician; [he] played guitar, and the students from Berkeley would always swing by and jam with him. So my love for music and dance were pretty much embedded in me at a very young age. [I] loved singing, dancing, and occasionally attempting to play guitar.
How did you come to teaching, and how did building your business affect your own practice as a dancer?
I began teaching dance at the age of 14. My teacher pretty much mentored me and I worked for her for seven years until I decided to go out on my own. I toured a little and managed some gigs around Boston and New York, but then decided to open up a studio in Inman Square. I worked hard with the kids after school and into the early evenings. I continued my own practice during the day, and whenever I had an opportunity to visit friends in New York, [I’d] join them in a gig here and there. But the studio was the most important place to me; I wanted to give the community something great, I wanted the kids to build confidence, and [I wanted to] keep them off the streets early on. I guess I worked overtime between teaching, running the business, and finding time for my own practice. I did earn the Eveready Energizer Award back in the late 90s.
How did the pandemic impact you and your work, and how are things now?
The pandemic was hard, but I have been through so much over the years; I figured out how to survive. I managed to get the PPP loans and took care of my teachers and the overhead. We were down at least 60% of our student [enrollment], but slowly came back and things are much better this year. I’ve been great at managing things when times are hard and we’ve had our share of rough years. Moving a business six times isn’t easy and it’s all in my book, Life Is But A Dance.
What are your thoughts on the arts community in Somerville?
I’m grateful for the Somerville community! They have been wonderful, especially during Covid-19. I have been especially grateful for the Arts Council, [for] all the work they did to help us, and in bringing all the genres of artists together!
What’s one of your favorite places in Somerville?
What I love about Somerville is that it offers an urban-suburban-mix feeling. There are lots of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. I don’t have one favorite because they are all wonderful.
List any social media links where readers can contact you or learn more about your performances, business, etc.
My website is www.deborahmasonperformingartscenter.com