Maybe it's the mountain air, the golden sunshine or the alpine elevation. There's just something about Utah that makes it an astonishing source of outstanding dancers, from ballroom and TV stars like Derek and Julianne Hough to ballerina Whitney Jensen.
To uncover the secrets of Utah's success, Dance Teacher turned to three of Utah's most influential studio owners in the Salt Lake City area: Jana Monson of Creative Arts Academy to the north in Bountiful, and, in southerly Orem, Kim DelGrosso of Center Stage Studio and Sheryl Dowling of The Dance Club.
These women have carved out unique niches in the region's incredibly crowded market. ("There is, honestly, I kid you not, a dance studio on every corner of where my studio is," DelGrosso says.) They consistently turn out some of the state's top talent while always focusing on helping kids develop self-esteem and maturity, as well as artistry. Here they share business perspectives, their personal philosophies—and some insight into Utah's dance magic.
Photo by Kim Raff
The Dance Club
- Enrollment: 300, ages 3–18
- Faculty: 30
- Weekly Classes: 125 in jazz, ballet, tap, hip hop, turns, improvisation and gymnastics
- Teams: 6 levels, from littles to pre-professional
- Competition: Company dancers attend 3 conventions annually; 1 National every other year. Jazz Club team attends 2 conventions and 1 competition yearly, plus 1 National every other year.
- Performance Opportunities: Christmas concert, spring recital and company showcase, plus an annual charity production
- Guest Teachers: Martha Nichols, Brooke Pierotti and Danny Wallace
"Most dancers come to us because they know we are strict," says Sheryl Dowling. "The great majority of our kids don't start at The Dance Club as a fun little hobby."
Two-thirds of Dance Club students participate on teams, and the commitment is serious: Company dancers take a minimum of 15 hours of weekly classes and rehearsals, plus competitions, performances, conventions and an annual charity show, which entails fundraising by every age group.
Dowling makes those expectations clear when kids audition, which helps ensure a good match between students, families and studio. "Most of the kids stay," she says, "and some will come at a little bit later age because they know we're serious." And when a match is not right, she offers thoughtful referrals. "If another studio will work better, we're so supportive," she says.
Since opening DC in 1979, she has trained the likes of Allison Holker of "DWTS" and "SYTYCD," Norwegian National Ballet soloist Whitney Jensen and Dowling's two daughters, Joey Dowling and Jacki Ford, who danced with the Rockettes and on Broadway and started Jo+Jax dancewear. But Dowling is less focused on producing professionals than on helping kids mature. "Really, we try to arm them with life skills: being dependable, learning how to work hard, being honest."
The smaller student body keeps classes to 10 to 16 students, one of Dowling's priorities. "I like knowing the kids," she says. In fact, most of her faculty "grew up" at DC, including co-owner Allison Thornton. And though DC may be smaller-scale, its custom-built facility is big-time: six studios with marley or wood floors, a Pilates room, a lobby and patio, a dancewear shop, offices, a teachers' lounge and a snack bar.
"For those people that we're a good fit for," Dowling says, "it's a great little family."