40 years old, dance school is still a family operation Continuity: The original owners still work six days a week at Jeannette's dance school, and many of the instructors took classes there when they were young.

March 11, 1998|By Melissa Corley nTC | Melissa Corley nTC,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The two-story building on Crain Highway in Glen Burnie looks abandoned during the day. Rain-filled potholes mark the parking lot, and a jagged chunk of glass is missing from the basement storm door.

But every evening, cars fill the parking lot and little girls run up the front steps as they have for 40 years to learn the intricate steps of ballet, tap and jazz.

Jeannette's School of the Dance is run more like a family than a business. Its original owners work there six days a week, and their daughter is director. Many of the instructors grew up in the studio, taking classes when they were young.

Bulletin boards in the cramped front office are filled with pictures from performances and articles about Jeannette's dancers who have gone on to bigger things.

Anne Marie Giroir, a Jeannette's student from the age of 3, performed in "Me and My Girl" on Broadway, on the Tony awards program and at the Kennedy Center. Another former student, Cindy Dumsha, also performed at the Kennedy Center.

Past a rickety desk, a staircase with a white, wrought-iron banister leads to a bright but chilly basement studio where Alissa Dorman runs through a warm-up routine with her 8- to 11-year-old ballet students. Pink curtains with ballerinas on them cover the windows. In a studio upstairs, a tap class stomps away.

"Plie and stretch," ballet instructor Dorman instructs the girls lined up along the wall. She reminds them to hold in their stomachs, hold out their arms to maintain balance and not to lean too far forward as they stretch their left legs out behind them.

"It's so much to think about," said 11-year-old Becky Patterson, a Corkran Middle School sixth-grader. Becky has been taking ballet, tap and jazz lessons at Jeannette's for six years.

Eight-year-old Amanda Davis is helping to choreograph a jazz performance at Severn Elementary, where she is a third-grader. She has been taking dance lessons at Jeannette's for five years. She has classes three days a week and likes to dance, "because it's fun."

The tap class finishes, and the ballet students move to the warmer, wood-paneled studio upstairs to beginning practicing a scene for their June recital. They pretend they are a deck of cards.

Studio owner Jeannette Strauss sits next to a table piled with records and tapes and chuckles as two students bump into each other accidentally.

"It's time to be quiet; there's too much talking," she warns when the girls barrage Dorman with questions about the recital.

Strauss used to do everything involved with running the studio, including teaching, said her daughter, Michelle Smith, 38, of Bowie. Smith started taking lessons at the studio when she was 3 and began working there when she was 15.

"I spent my whole life in the studio," said Smith, studio director.

When she was in college, her mother was hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street and was unable to work at the studio for months.

"I helped as much as I could," said Smith. "She used to do everything I'm doing."

That means arranging recitals, registering students, working with the teachers, running a summer dance camp and teaching classes. She usually writes the plays used for the end-of-the-year recitals. This year, she wrote an adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland" that will be performed at Glen Burnie High School June 12-13.

The studio's four-day dance camp is at the end of June, with a recital on the last day. This year it will be June 26 at Downs Memorial Park in Pasadena.

The studio's ballet students also perform at local senior citizen homes and hold an annual Christmas recital at Marley Station Mall.

Strauss still makes the final decisions about what music is used and helps the teachers during class.

"My dad does the business end of it," Smith said. Her father, Herbert Strauss, also used to teach tap and jazz at the studio. "He pays the bills."

Instructor Stacey Crum of Glen Burnie started taking lessons at Jeannette's 22 years ago, when she was 3. She has been teaching there for 10 years.

Until she went to Towson State University to study dance, Crum had never studied anywhere but at Jeannette's.

"I would never have been able to make it at Towson without Jeannette's," she said.

Now it is Crum's turn to pass her knowledge on to the next generation of Jeannette's dancers. She teaches ballet, jazz, tap and modern four days a week.

She said Jeannette's stands apart from other dance schools.

"We don't stress competition, just having fun," she said. "So many of the girls are friends outside of class as well. It's a very friendly atmosphere."

Smith said the teachers have become a family because many of them grew up in the studio.

"We've known each other our whole lives, practically," Smith said. "My parents are like second parents to them."

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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