Mandy Armstrong recently gave some students and parents in the Newark area a reason to dance for joy.
Armstrong has opened SMS Dance Academy at Newark’s St. Michael School, where her two children are in kindergarten and third grade, respectively. Although the academy is housed at the Catholic school, it is open to both St. Michael students and children who attend the local public schools, Armstrong said.
Armstrong, who with her family belongs to St. Michael Parish in Lyons, has long dreamed of establishing a dance program for youngsters in her community. As a child, Armstrong said her dedication to dance kept her out of much of the trouble her peers found themselves in, so she wanted to offer that same opportunity to children in southern Wayne County. A dance program, she noted, also provides a nice alternative for students who aren’t interested in more typical scholastic athletics.
“Not every kid wants to go out and play basketball and soccer. It’s nice to be able to offer different programs to the kids,” Armstrong said.
Former St. Michael principal Shannon Heller learned of Armstrong’s interest in dance last year, when Armstrong gave a presentation about dance during the school’s career day. The students seemed to enjoy her presentation, and several weeks later Heller came to her with the idea of starting a dance program at the school, Armstrong said.
“I said, ‘The only way this is going to work is if we run this like a dance studio and offer them everything they would get from a dance studio, but for less money,'” Armstrong recalled.
Although Heller left St. Michael over the summer to take a vice-principal position at Irondequoit’s Bishop Kearney High School, Armstrong continued to make plans for the dance academy with new principal Pauline DeCann. SMS Dance Academy will not be run like a typical after-school athletic activity, but will instead operate like a typical dance academy, with parents paying each month for their children’s lessons, she said.
Armstrong began dancing when she was 6 years old. At the time, she and her sister were envious of a neighbor who took dance lessons, so they begged their mother to enroll them at a studio. She said she and her sister discovered they had a natural talent for dance, and both stuck with their lessons.
“By the time I graduated high school I was teaching some of the younger kids and assisting older students. I was dancing six hours a day, six days a week,” Armstrong said.
After graduating from high school, Armstrong enrolled at the State University of New York at Brockport in 1995 to pursue a minor in dance. There she studied under such well-known dancers as Garth Fagan, choreographer of the 1997 Broadway musical “The Lion King,” and Clyde Morgan, artistic director of Sankofa, SUNY Brockport’s well-known African dance and drum ensemble.
The next few years were filled with many moves for Armstrong and her husband, who is in the military. Since returning to the Rochester area, she has served as a guest teacher at a number of local dance studios, including her sister’s Diamond Dance Academy in Brockport, where she also has served as a guest choreographer.
As director of SMS Dance Academy, Armstrong will teach weekly classes in ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance for children between the ages of 6 and 13. She also will teach a weekly dance-technique class and a predance class for preschoolers, and she also hopes to teach a monthly “Mommy and Me” class for girls of all ages and their mothers. She noted that girls as old as 13 participate in a similar class at Diamond Dance Academy.
“It’s not a difficult dance. It’s just basically a mother-daughter dance. It’s just a simple, cute little thing that they can do together once a month. They’ll perform it at the recital,” Armstrong said.
If she can garner enough interest, Armstrong also would like to teach a similar monthly “Daddy and Me” class. She’ll also lead a weekly production class, where dancers will perform long dances while acting out and lip synching along to popular songs. In the dance-technique class, she’ll teach her students how to strengthen and stretch their muscles in order to prevent injuries.
Parents of dance students will be required to purchase for their children proper dance attire — including tights, leotards and ballet shoes — but they won’t be charged separate fees for recital costumes and expenses. Instead, those fees will come out of the parents’ monthly payments.
Most dance studios charge costume and recitals fees in addition to regular tuition, and this is one reason Armstrong thinks SMS Dance Academy will be more affordable than many other studios. Most dance studios do not publicize their tuition fees, Armstrong said, and SMS Dance Academy is no different. However, she will share that information with interested parents who call and inquire about lessons.
Armstrong thinks parents will like the dance academy not only because it’s affordable, but also because its after-school classes will likely fall into a convenient time slot. Classes at many other studios don’t begin until at least 4:30 p.m., she said.
Armstrong also hopes the dance academy might help increase enrollment at St. Michael. When parents of public-school students drop off their children for dance classes, she said she hopes they might notice all the things the Catholic school has to offer.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about SMS Dance Academy, contact St. Michael School at 315/331-2297 or e-mail SMSdanceprogram@msn.com.