Tale as Old as Time

As we head toward 2012, longtime studio owners take a moment to reflect on their success.

Five decades of Paulette Harwood’s students surprised her with an anniversary celebration.

A good sign of a strong studio is one that lasts—consistently bringing in students despite hard times, the changing dance industry and a failing economy. DT talked to studio owners whose businesses have stood the test of time and asked for the secrets to their longevity.

Paulette Harwood

Paulette’s Ballet Studio 

(250–300 students)

Needham, MA

Years open: 52

“I danced on Broadway for 10 years and just loved it, and I wanted my daughters to love dancing like I did. So I started my studio very selfishly to teach my own girls, Pauline, Paula and Paulette, Jr. (I’d married a Paul). They all grew up in the school, learned to teach from me and went on to dance professionally. I’m a lucky mom.

“To celebrate our 50th anniversary, my daughters went behind my back and got in touch with students from all over the country who had been with the studio since my first year. They all came back and performed dances that they’d learned when they were dancing with me! I could hardly see it through the tears in my eyes. And my daughters, who hadn’t performed together since their high school days, danced for me. Seeing the three of them made my heart sing. It was kind of a love fest. I don’t know how else to put it.”

Marcia Fellows

Marcia’s School of Dance

(200 students)

Appleton, WI

Years open: 50

“I started my studio in the basement of  my home in 1961. Since the studio is still attached to my home, I’m available to answer the phone at all times. Customers want to talk with a person, not a machine.

“My faculty, including myself, continue our dance education throughout the year at dance workshops. This keeps us up to date, so we can continue to share our love for dance with every student.”

Tammy Liiro

Nardi Dance Studios & Performing Arts Center

(500 students)

Easton, PA

Years open: 77

“Nardi Dance Studio opened in 1934, and my husband and I acquired it in 1965. We are proud to have four generations of students who have learned to dance at our studio, which means some of our preschoolers who are attending now had great-grandmothers who used to attend.

“A good studio depends on having good relationships with students and their parents. We have always allowed parents to view classes through observation windows as well as TV monitors. After doing that all these years, we found that the parents have grown to love the arts and to appreciate what it really takes to become a great dancer.

“In recent years, students are busier than ever, and I feel a great responsibility to maintain class and rehearsal schedules that help them obtain every opportunity they can, in and out of the studio. After all, that’s what we are training them for.”

Angie Hohl

Jan’s School of Dance

(400 students)

Evansville, IN

Years open: 53

“I started taking dance from the studio’s original owner, Jan Stovall, when I was 3. In 2000 she retired, and I bought the studio from her. I have tried to keep up the qualities that Jan valued. Most importantly, I try to instill positive life lessons that the students will carry with them. I define success as when students leave the studio feeling good about themselves.”

Sandra Fortune-Green

Jones Haywood School of Dance (80 students)

Washington, DC

Years open: 70

“I purchased the school six years ago, and I’m proud of JHSD’s reputation for preserving a strong classical tradition. The keys to a successful studio are highly effective faculty members who have the ability to pique their students’ passion about dancing.

“My advice to new studio owners is to never lower your artistic standards even in the face of adversity—remain focused on your mission, vision and your goals.”

Linda Oltmann Walker

Trudy’s School of Dance

(200 students)

Charleston, SC

Years open: 72

“My mom, Miss Trudy [Trudy Oltmann Hammett] opened the studio in 1939, and she is still alive and kicking—she will be 90 in January. I now run the studio with Tiffany DiPrima, my daughter. We are very proud and blessed to have a faculty who are top-notch in their field and also loving role models. It makes us very proud when a new family comes in and says how warm and friendly the atmosphere is.

“In 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, and it was a hard time for our school. Families were struggling to rebuild, and we had no idea if we could open. Our staff came to us and said they would work for free until we all got back on our feet. I knew then that I would always want to be surrounded by my dance family—staff, parents and students.”

Sue Gilson

Georgia’s School of Dance

(100–125 students)

Escondido, CA

Years open: 59

“The studio’s original owner, Georgia Copeland [an original “Goldwyn Girl”], passed away and left the studio to me. Even though I had been with the studio for 25 years at that time, it took a while to prove myself as an owner/director, because I was taking over from a legend. I concentrated on making our offerings more well-rounded—increasing the teaching staff and the styles offered.

“I am proud of my studio’s teamwork, communication, amazing teachers and efficient and friendly front-desk personnel. Communication and understanding are key ingredients.”

Carryl Slobotkin

Jazz Unlimited (1,500 students)

Marlton, NJ

Years open: 41

“This year I had 16 students graduate from high school who had started with me when they were 2 or 3 years old. I’m so proud that we’re able to keep students for all these years, continue challenging them and stay as contemporary as we can with what’s happening in the dance world.

“When I went into this, I loved dance. All of us do, but running a dance studio takes so much more. You have to be very organized and have a professional and well-rounded staff. One of the hardest things is to not let the parents run the studio. You can’t make everyone happy. You have to think of it as a business, and be prepared to put in long days. This is not a 9-to-5 job, that’s for sure.” DT

 

Photo by and courtesy of Peter Noel Photography

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.