To most Kansans, the bright lights of Broadway might seem as far away as the land of Oz. Not so for students of the Miller-Marley School of Dance and Voice in Overland Park, KS. Over the past four decades, many of them have gone on to professional careers on the Great White Way, as well as in dance, television, community theater and film. For them, there really is no place like home.

The credit is due to Shirley Marley, who, from an upbringing on an Iowa farm with an outhouse and no electricity, has created a dance studio where quality training and a strong sense of family have translated into unparalleled success. “We believe in creating triple threats—those who can dance, sing and act,” she says.

Marley started studying dance at age 6 in Corydon, IA. In the late 1950s, her family moved to Kansas City, where she began teaching at the Virginia Loncar School of Dance as a high school student. A few years later, Marley inherited the school when Loncar moved to Chicago. In 1963, after marrying Johnny Miller, Marley renamed the school the Miller-Marley School of Dance.

Marley and the school have since become fixtures in the Kansas City community. She has held positions as children’s choreographer at the local Starlight Theatre and as director of the Chiefettes, the dance team for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. At the same time, her school has grown, garnering a reputation for turning out Broadway dancers from the likes of Cheryl Clark (A Chorus Line, Pippin, Chicago) and Lisa Brown (42nd Street, Pal Joey, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) to current performers Marty Thomas (Xanadu, The Secret Garden, Wicked), Renée Feder (Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Anything Goes) and Shannon Durig, who currently stars as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray.

Other alumni have found success in different areas, including former Paul Taylor Dance Company dancer Francie Huber, film actress Sandahl Bergman and television host Constance Ramos. Fourteen former students have also opened their own dance schools in the Kansas City area. In short, Miller-Marley dancers are just about everywhere. As Durig recalls, “Someone asked me at an audition if I was from ‘that school in Kansas.’ When I said yes, they replied, ‘Who are you people and why are there so many of you here?’”

The answer can be found in an unassuming suburban strip mall where Marley’s school has been located for the past 22 years. There, the 16-member faculty, many of whom have been with the school for 20 years or more, teach classes for students ages 3 through adult in ballet, pointe, jazz, lyrical, tap, hip hop, Pilates, voice and piano. Former students also offer regular master classes on such topics as auditioning and what it takes to land a job.

With an eye toward developing students as performers, the school has five performing groups for children ages 6 and up, along with two competition teams. Students also make regular trips to New York City’s Broadway Dance Center and other training facilities and perform in an annual recital or themed production. “Our philosophy is one of inclusiveness,” says School Director Brian McGinness, who has been with Miller-Marley for 27 years. “Regardless of body type and talent level, we are there for every student who walks through our door.”

While Marley and McGinness are quick to attribute the school’s success to their students’ talent and hard work, they also cite the following strategies:
n Offer an abundance of class levels: Marley feels that having more than a dozen class levels helps her and the faculty better place students according to ability, thus helping them learn faster and move up more quickly.

Stay fresh with ongoing teacher training: Marley and her staff annually attend training sessions and conventions in NYC, Los Angeles and St. Louis. “We try to keep up on the latest techniques and trends,” she says. “We never think that we know it all. The advice I give the kids is, ‘When I tell you something, I may change my mind tomorrow when I learn something else.’”

Foster a well-rounded education: According to McGinness, the school encourages students to get involved in drama classes, school plays and other performing opportunities apart from Miller-Marley. The idea is that the benefits of these outside experiences will come back to the school 10-fold through students’ passion and dedication toward training.

Set good examples: “All of my students have seen others from the studio who have gone on and done things,” says Marley. “They know they can do the same because they have seen so many who have. They are training at the same place and learning the same things the others did.”
In the end, Marley feels that helping students believe in themselves is the most important lesson she can pass on. “Shirley put the belief in us that we can do anything we put our minds to,” attests Durig. “When we go on auditions, we know we have everything we need to succeed.”

As for the 72-year-old Marley, being in the studio every day is what gives her life purpose. “I have the best job in the world and am working with the best people in the world,” she says. “I have always felt that your students should be better than you. I want Miller-Marley to be a place where that goal is carried on long after I’m gone.” DT

Steve Sucato is a dancer-turned-writer/critic based in Erie, PA. He writes regularly for several newspapers.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Lani Corson. Photo by Royce Burgess, courtesy of Corson

Aerial work is growing in popularity in the dance world these days. Don't believe us? Check out this Dance Magazine article! If you're a studio owner who didn't grow up with aerial training (let's face it, how many of us really did?), then you may be feeling a little apprehensive about what to look for when bringing on a new aerialist faculty member. You know exactly what you want from your ballet teachers, your jazz teachers, your tap teachers, heck—even your tumbling teachers! Aerial, however, is a whole other ballgame.

To help you feel confident you're bringing in a teacher who is safe for your dancers, we sat down with Lani Corson, NYC aerialist, circus performer, adjunct professor at Pace University and teacher at Aerial Arts NYC, to get the inside scoop on exactly what you should be looking for.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Unsplash

Is dance a sport? Should it be in the Olympics? They're complicated questions that tend to spark heated debate. But many dance fans will be excited to hear that breaking (please don't call it breakdancing) has been provisionally added to the program for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox