After 4 decades, dance school remains a family operation Original owners still work at Jeannette's in Arundel

March 11, 1998|By Melissa Corley | Melissa Corley,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 age 3, has performed in "Me and My Girl" on Broadway, on the Tony awards program and at the Kennedy Center. Another former student, Cindy Dumsha, has 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," 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.

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."

"I have a lot of friends there," she said.

The tap class finishes, and the ballet students move to the warmer, wood-paneled studio upstairs to begin 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, the studio's director.

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

"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."

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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