High Five with Rebecca Tingle and Melissa Verzino

The Dance Centre company members

The Dance Centre

Tuscaloosa, AL

In business since: 1990, when original founder (1947) Martha Jamison retired.

Number of students enrolled: 350

How do you keep your dancers motivated throughout the year?

Rebecca Tingle: We involve our students in productions throughout the season, in addition to preparing for competition. The quick pace of moving from one project to the next requires the dancers to stay focused. Our year-end recital is a full-blown event with five performances in three days. We also bring in guest teachers and choreographers to shake up the normal routine and bring fresh perspective and excitement.

What are some traditions you have with your competition team?

RT: We have an annual lock-in every spring that is run by our senior company members, who make up dances and plan craft projects for the younger dancers. Everyone performs the dances they learned for each other and we have a midnight pizza party. Then we roll out the sleeping bags and watch movies. If we are lucky, we get to bed around 3 or 4 am. It is definitely something the young students look forward to.

Our newest tradition is adopting families during the holidays through The Salvation Army. In lieu of giving presents to the teachers, we ask that the parents donate to a family in need. On the last day of classes, the company holds a “Wrap Fest” where we wrap gifts the studio families have donated.  

What is the most important thing to tell dancers before they head to competition?

Melissa Verzino: We talk a lot about the magic of Broadway and how those performers, no matter how many times they have done the same show, find it in themselves to perform as if it were the first time. We want the dancers to see themselves through the eyes of the audience, so they can dig deep and bring the excitement.

What are the biggest challenges and rewards that come with being a studio owner?

MV: Most days I find myself juggling the roles of administrator, creative director, choreographer, teacher and parent liaison. Then there’s the ultimate job of wife and mother. The days can be long but are very fulfilling when you learn to switch gears and be productive in each area.

The greatest rewards come in the day-to-day, when the studio runs like a well-oiled machine—the dancers bound through the doors after school with smiles on their faces, the teachers crank up the music and you can walk through the halls seeing the excitement and learning happening in the classrooms.

What is your advice for first-time competition teachers?

MV: Spend time observing the competition process. Attend competitions as an audience member—soak up the atmosphere and check out the backstage activity. Start small and gradually grow with the number of pieces you bring to competition. Most importantly, surround yourself with good people who share your goals. No one person can do it alone.

Photo by Michael J. Moore

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