Pittsfield shakes off winter blues at first Third Thursday



Evidently, Berkshire residents were ready to boogie into the nicer weather that brings about Third Thursday.

The seventh year of the monthly street festival -- where arts, music, activities and foot traffic clog a closed North Street every third Thursday from May to October -- brought people into the streets to, quite literally, shake off their winter hibernation on a seasonably warm mid-May day.

"This is the biggest May I've ever seen," said Megan Whilden, director of cultural development for the city of Pittsfield, as she stood on a median in North Street while thousands of people buzzed around. "It's as crowded as the summer ones."

This month's theme was "Youth on the Move." It was sponsored by Berkshire Health Systems in partnership with Pittsfield Public Schools' Balancing the Equation initiative, which teaches students about proper diet and exercise. Each Third Thursday's theme is contingent upon the festival's partners, Whilden said.

The Balancing the Equation Initiative was made possible for Pittsfield Public Schools by the Carol M. White Physical Education Grant, a three-year, $2.2 million grant that was awarded to Pittsfield Public Schools in 2010, according to Linda Avalle, the curriculum coordinator for physical education and health at Pittsfield Public Schools.

She said the Balance the Equation initiative had been working to put a Third Thursday partnership into motion since last year.

"We wanted to have some sort of community celebration for Balancing the Equation, and invite our families to come celebrate with us," Avalle said.

Exercise options were aplenty at Third Thursday. Besides walking up and down North Street, thousands of attendees could also Zumba, square dance, Harlem Shake, Hokey Pokey or dance with little regard to a beat, as many young ones did. Some Pittsfield High School students even dressed up as fruits and veggies to promote wellness, they said.

At one point, a circle of people clogged the center of North Street to watch students from every Pittsfield school perform a choreographed dance.

"It's not the physical education that many of our parents remember," Avalle said. "It's a shift toward empowering our students to make healthy decisions."

The grant that paid for the Balance the Equation initiative also paid for two Third Thursday activities: Nutritionist Rockstar Jump with Jill -- an interactive concert about nutrition aimed for youngsters -- and square dancing with Cliff Brodeur, who taught square dancing at some of the local schools over the past few months.

"People who move around and dance live an additional 10 years," Brodeur said. "I've seen people start dancing at age 5, and continue until they're 90."

Third Thursday also saw a new open-mic booth on one end of the festival, and a new Thistle and Mirth beer garden serving local brews from Wandering Star in the long-abandoned breezeway next to Hot Harry's.

"We're always interested in trying some of the local brews," Pittsfield resident Dave Hornyak said while he enjoyed a cold one in the beer garden with his wife, Susan "Rainbow" Hornyak.

"Sometimes, after a cold winter, it's nice to come out to Third Thursday and run into family and friends you haven't seen in a while," she said.

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