Studio Owners

Passing the Torch: How Beverly Spell Found the Perfect Successor for Her Studio

Photo by Benjamin Spell, courtesy of Spell

Did you see our story on three former owners who found the right successors for their studios? Here's another owner with a successful transition story.

After nearly two decades of ownership, Beverly Spell decided to sell her Lafayette, Louisiana–based school, because the licensing of her curriculum for creative movement and beginning ballet was demanding more of her time and travel. "You can be an absent owner," says Spell, "but I didn't want to be." Last August, she sold The Ballet Studio to faculty member Brie Castro. "We offered her a down payment with four-year owner financing," says Spell. She says it's been surprisingly easy to let go of the responsibility. Well, except for one small thing: "We always have fresh flowers at the studio," she says, "and I still tend to pull out the dead ones when I go in."


Dance Teacher: How did you find your replacement?

Beverly Spell: I knew I needed to find the perfect person—and I did. She was one of my first students. She danced with me growing up, and then she went to college and majored in dance and business. Last year, she came on full-time with me as a teacher. Because she grew up in the studio, she understood the values, the foundation, the clientele, why people come to The Ballet Studio. I just asked her. She said, "Ms. Bev, this has been my life's dream."

DT: Was there a moment when you knew you'd made the right decision?

BS: Last year, I was at a conference, and I was supposed to come home in time for our year-end performance photos. My flight got canceled. I called and said, "Brie, you need to do it. Make the decisions—just handle it." When I got back, one of the moms said, "Hey, Bev, Brie was amazing! We didn't even need you here."

DT: How did you make the announcement?

BS: I wanted my top-level dancers to hear it from me. I called all the kids in, and the parents who were there. Brie and I sat in front of them, and I said, "You know how I also do Leap 'N Learn? I've been very busy with it, and it's growing. I'm also a grandma. I think it's time for me to start focusing on those parts of my life. Brie will be taking over ownership of the studio. You'll see me from time to time—I'll be the sub." They were shocked. But after we talked, they were fine. There hasn't been one negative comment.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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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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