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.

Show Comments ()
Dance Teacher Tips

Filming class is all the rage these days, but without proper know-how, your videos can end up looking unprofessional. High- quality footage enhances the entire experience of your choreography and will give your students content they can use to promote themselves and further their career.

Here are five basic video tips for teachers who want to dip their toes in videography. These bad boys will put you on the road to get quality footage from your next class. Check 'em out! 👇

Keep reading... Show less

The fun doesn't stop after Showstopper's competition season ends. Join Showstopper this fall and winter for their 2018-19 Dance Conventions. Bring the whole studio or dance solo, but register soon so you do not miss out!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photos courtesy of the studio's GoFundMe page

Dance Theatre of Jacksonville has suffered severe damage from the recent storm that swept through the southeastern states.

In an effort to help, a studio owner in California whose current student is an alumni of the studio located in Jacksonville, North Carolina, set up a GoFundMe page.

The studio's roof, floating hardwood floors and ceilings all need repairs. The lobby floors are also ruined, according to the studio's owner, Debra Baile Becerra. See a few photos of the devastation below.

"If you can help them out in any way, it would be so appreciated and a blessing on these kids to get back into the studio and feel some sort of normalcy," reads a statement included in the post.

For more information and to offer support, visit here.

Sequins and sparkles… sure they dazzle on stage, but for some dancers, certain dance costumes can be uncomfortable and invoke feelings of insecurity. We believe dancers should always feel comfortable so they can focus on the joy of dance. We also believe dance studio owners and teachers should have peace of mind when selecting costumes for their dancers, especially those with sensory sensitivities.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun

The "In My Feelings" challenge took the internet by storm last summer, and we have to say, we thoroughly enjoyed how dancey the internet got for a hot second.

Some of the best editions of the challenge came from some fabulous young ballet dancers, and before the challenge becomes 100 percent irrelevant, we wanted to post one of our favorites for your perusal. You've just got to enjoy Kiki from a classical perspective—am I right?

Share your best "In My Feelings" challenge videos in our comments! We're not ready for this internet phase to end, and we plan to ride it out as long as possible 💁.

You're welcome.

Keep reading... Show less

In an industry exploding with options where bigger is often billed as better, BravO! National Dance & Talent Competition fills a unique void by putting the focus on what matters most - the performers.

Based in Omaha, Nebraska, BravO! combines a participant, studio, and family-friendly schedule with leading edge competition elements and a staff that is dedicated, accommodating, and friendly. They take the competition experience to new heights for dancers, teachers, and spectators alike.

Keep reading... Show less
Editor's List: The Goods
Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alison Stroming in a Capezio leotard (via capezio.com)

There's a change in the air these past few weeks—is it fall? Not quite yet. More importantly, it's PUMPKIN SPICE SEASON. And now, the quintessentially autumnal flavor isn't just for lattes anymore. Dancewear companies are picking up on the trend, offering more and more pieces in rich, sweet orange shades. Behold, eight of our favorite pumpkin spice-inspired pieces for your dancing enjoyment.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Parents: Can't live with them, can't run a studio without them. They aren't shy about voicing their opinions, asking for special treatment or complaining about tuition rates. But they are, first and foremost, your customers, and that means they're entitled to a great customer experience. "Remember that you're in a service business," says Frank Sahlein of 3rd Level Consulting, who often works with studio owners to grow and improve their businesses. Here are five things you owe your customers—and easily implemented methods for meeting their needs.

Keep reading... Show less
Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in George Balanchine's Agon. Photo courtesy DM Archives

Former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell passed away today in a Manhattan hospital. He was 84 years old.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Sometimes dance class can get a little (or a lot) predictable, and your students need something that will spice things up.

For times like these, here are some unconventional class activities your kids will love.

Check 'em out 👇 and in the comments share fun and different class activities you like to do!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Joe Lanteri teaching at Steps in the early 2000s

The iconic New York City dance studio Steps on Broadway has a new leader coming on board: Joe Lanteri. The New York City Dance Alliance founder will be Steps' new co-owner and executive director.

"For me, it's a big full circle," says Lanteri, who used to take class at Steps when he first moved to New York City, and started teaching there in the mid-1980s. The 4:30 p.m. Tuesday/Thursday Advanced Intermediate Jazz slot he held down for many years taught a slew of young talent—including choreographers-to-be like Jessica Lang and Sergio Trujillo. "As a young teacher, Steps was a platform for me to travel the world giving master classes; it became the underlying foundation for what I'm doing now in my life."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored