Lori Axelrod Pays It Forward at Miss Marion's School of Dance

"I want to encourage them to love it. They're going to stay if they love it," says Axelrod. Photo by Jamal Purvis, courtesy of Miss Marion's School of Dance

When Lori Axelrod took over Miss Marion's School of Dance, in 1999, she wanted to maintain the legacy her mother, Marion, had established in Spartanburg, South Carolina. "We're a very community-oriented school," she says. "We go out and do things for other people—perform for nursing homes, schools and different community events. That's what we're known for." Eight years ago, after beating breast cancer, Axelrod created an annual event, "Paint Our Town Pink," in which students perform to raise money for women who can't afford mammograms.


She starts instilling this sense of generosity in her students at an early age. In her preschool ballet and tap combination classes, Axelrod encourages self-confidence and camaraderie through moments of improvisation throughout class. "I'll say, 'It's your turn. How are you going to be a star?' And then they'll show me," she says. One by one, the students will demonstrate their favorite dance steps for the rest of the class. "I don't want to just teach them the shuffle-ball-change," says Axelrod. "I want to encourage them to love it. They're going to stay if they love it."

Amid teaching the 3- to 4-year-olds basic ballet and tap skills, like skipping, passé, walking on relevé and pointing and flexing their toes, Axelrod finds fun ways to make class feel more like playtime. "The other day I had them bring their dolls in, and we stretched with the dolls," she says. "They loved it."

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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