About 80 miles north of Manhattan, in the quaint New England town of New Milford, Connecticut, you can find the buzz of Broadway. Under the direction of husband-and-wife team Scott Wise and Elizabeth Parkinson, both former Broadway stars, FineLine Theatre Arts aims to provide students with a top-notch—yet accessible—performing arts education. Just two years old, the studio now boasts roughly 250 students and alumni who have gone on to dance at North Carolina School of the Arts, Point Park College, University of the Arts and Mercyhurst College, as well as with such companies as MOMIX, Donald Byrd/The Group and Spectrum Dance Theater.

“We believe that the performing arts are fundamental to human expression and should be part of lifelong learning, and that the arts play a life-affirming role in our lives,” explains Parkinson. “FineLine Theatre Arts invites the entire community to fully participate in the central joys of living: acting, singing and dancing.”

Drawing from Experience

The school is a reflection of the pair’s experiences as performers, says Parkinson, who started studying ballet at age 13 in Tampa, Florida. Spending five summers at Joffrey Ballet intensives paid off when she joined Joffrey II and then danced with the main company for eight years. She also danced with Eliot Feld and Donald Byrd/The Group before making the transition to musical theater. Parkinson took theater dance classes with Chet Walker at Broadway Dance Center as well as Fosse workshops, which helped her land a part in the national tour of Fosse.

Raised in Pocatello, Idaho, Wise trained in acrobatics, jazz and ballet, but eventually shifted his focus to musical theater as well. He performed with Ballet Memphis and the Joffrey Concert Group before earning his first Broadway role in A Chorus Line in 1981 and going on to appear in 13 other Broadway shows and the film version of Chicago. A decorated veteran of the stage, Wise won a 1989 Tony Award for his role in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, and was nominated for State Fair and Fosse. He also received an Astaire Award for his performance in Damn Yankees.

The two met while rehearsing for Fosse and married in 1999. They later worked together as cast members in Movin’ Out, on which Wise doubled as Twyla Tharp’s assistant. Parkinson received a 2003 Tony award nomination and an Astaire Award for her role as Brenda.

Putting aside their illustrious performance careers to open FineLine was a big decision for the couple. Yet they had reached a point where they were satisfied with their accomplishments and were increasingly interested in moving with their now 4-year-old son, James, to a quieter setting outside of New York City. Parkinson recalls thinking, “I’m really ready to share the joy that I have from my career.” Wise adds that the structure and pace of studio life is rewarding, if challenging: “Having the same group of kids each week is different from teaching a workshop,” he says. “You really have to teach the kids to dance. It’s a huge responsibility.”

Sharing the Knowledge

FineLine operates in a 3,000-square-foot facility comprising two dance studios and one music studio, offering classes in ballet, jazz, tap, musical theater, drama, acrobatics, body alignment and Pilates. Adult/teen entry-level classes are available in each discipline. Performance opportunities include an acting and two dance ensembles.

Parkinson teaches ballet, Wise teaches tap, and they both teach jazz. Former colleagues from the theater dance world come in to hold special workshops. In addition, FineLine inherited a renowned ballet staff when it absorbed students and teachers from the former School of Performing Arts, directed by Arlene Begelman, who now also instructs at FineLine. Wise says the ballet and acting departments have emerged as the school’s strengths. “You have to take ballet and acting if you’re going to be a performer on any level,” he explains.

Versatility is indeed a main focus of the studio. “The people who thrive [in show business] are the ones who are open to experiencing a lot of different things,” says Parkinson. “I want students to have as many options as they can.” In particular, she hopes to give them more opportunities than she was given: “There I was at the Joffrey, and I didn’t even know about the world of Broadway,” Parkinson recalls. “I really wish I had been exposed to singing and acting at a younger age. I appreciate the path I took, but I think I would have liked to have had a broader spectrum.”

Wise and Parkinson pride themselves on catering to individual students’ interests and strengths and identifying their goals. “Each one is custom-guided,” Parkinson says. Mary MacLeod, a former Fosse dancer and New York–based Broadway performer and dance instructor who frequently teaches theater dance classes at FineLine, attests to the pair’s ability to help students discover their personalities: “Scott and Liz connect well to these young people,” she says. “They really understand their individual students, which is fantastic. They make them feel safe to try and to trust.”

Planning for the Future

In the meantime, Parkinson looks forward to starting a nonprofit youth performing dance company, in addition to community outreach programs in local schools. “Our main goal is to have more performing,” says Wise.

For now, an all-discipline production is planned for June 2009. “It’s a little ambitious, but we’re going to do Bohemian Rhapsody,” based on the Queen song, says Parkinson. She and Wise, who is in charge of staging the production, will audition a local band of youth musicians to play in it. “We’re really excited about it because we’ll be able to incorporate a lot,” she adds. “It’s a great teaching tool—combining all of the disciplines.”

This summer, the couple also held their first annual two-week Musical Theatre Laboratory on Martha’s Vineyard, designed to expose serious musical theater students to the reality of working in the industry through a learning process that mimics the professional world of Broadway. They auditioned teens, ages 14 to 18, for 25 coveted spots in the summer session. The curriculum was similar to that of FineLine’s regular program, but included additional instruction in musical theater history, musical theater repertory, monologue study, audition techniques and writing.

Even though both directors are demanding, they take pains to offer corrections in a positive, nurturing way. “You have to make sure there’s joy in it,” says Wise, “because if you beat it out of the students, then they’ve lost any love for dance at all.” Adds Parkinson, “To be a success in this business, you have to have a passion for it and a really solid determination. I try to make students realize that hard work can be fun.” DT

Allison Duke is a New Hampshire-based dancer, teacher and writer who contributes to Pointe, Dance Spirit and Dance Teacher magazines.

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 Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

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
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

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 Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

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

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox