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Break Into Dance/Studio Teaches the Right Moves

by Nathan Oravec

“I always wanted to open my own studio ever since I was taking dance,” says Kelly Jenkins, owner of the Hagerstown based studio Dancin’ Time which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. “It was always my dream.”

Jenkins and her dance partner, Alfredo Jimenez, had moved to the area following their retirement from professional dancing. Uncertain whether they would stay or move to the West Coast, they soon fell in love with Hagerstown. At the time, Jenkins was serving as choreographer for the Washington County Playhouse. During instruction for a production of Annie, working with a group of young girls playing orphans, she was approached by many of their parents who, impressed with her work, suggested that she open her own studio.

Jenkins’ Dancin’ Time started relatively small with only twenty-five students. Launched on a trial basis, the studio quickly gained its footing after enrollment nearly doubled with each consecutive year. Today, the studio instructs approximately 200 students, offering twelve classes a day, four days a week.

In addition to Jenkins and Jimenez, two other instructors - Susan Strider and Al Vokening - share teaching duties. Together, they offer an encompassing array of styles, including tap, ballet, jazz, flamenco (Jimenez’s specialty) and lyrical courses, as well as adult classes. “All of us,” says Jenkins, “share the same dedication to the kids.”

The kids, it is clear, are the heart and soul of Dancin’ Time. “Dancing is so different from anything else,” says Jenkins. “I compare us to school teachers, but whereas they see their students for a year before moving onto a different class, we see our kids from the age of four until they’re eighteen. It’s really nice to see them grow from toddlers to young adults.”

While younger dancers, ages 3-6, are taught in a class of their own by Strider (“I take my hat off to her,” says Jenkins), the general structure of Dancin’ Time is one that its owner considers unique. “We go by placement,” she says. “I think that’s where we differ.” After completing combination classes, in which students are introduced to the many different styles of dance, they choose their focus - ballet, jazz, etc. - and are placed in one of three skill levels, beginning, intermediate or advanced. “It’s good, because this way, if I have an eight year old who happens to be exceptional - which I do - I can place her in an advanced class.”

Sometimes, it can be hard, she explains, for the kids who may remain in a lower skill level while a friend moves forward, but - she adds - “it’s also good, because it gives them something to work up to.”

Work. The road to becoming a professional dancer, Jenkins notes, is a long one - and a lot of work.

“A majority of my students take three to four classes a week,” Jenkins says. “We’d like them to take all styles, not just ballet. We want them to be well-rounded performers. That way, if they take part in school plays and shows, it will help them know what is expected of them there, but also, if they’re going to be a professional dancer - they can walk into an audition and know exactly what to do.”

To her knowledge, three of Jenkins’ former students have gone on to become professional dancers, while a handful are majoring in dance at college. “It’s fun to know all of the hours they spent training is now paying off for them.”

“Not every child is going to be a professional dancer,” Jenkins notes. “But dance can help with their self esteem and how to express themselves. I really believe it helps them with their futures.”

“We have some great students,” she continues. “One of the girls is going into the military academy, and I always laugh because that’s such an opposite from dance, but this has given her a little bit of the endurance that she’s going to need there.”

“A lot of our students come and do shows at the Playhouse. (Jenkins purchased the theater six years ago.) We teach them to be professional, so they can know what to expect if they go into the business. Right now, we have eleven students in our Christmas show, The Stingiest Man in Town.”

Jenkins, herself, was introduced to dance when her mom enrolled her in a nursery school where she grew up in Reno, Nevada. “It was one of the activities we did every day.”

“By the time I was a senior in high school, I was probably taking five hours of dance a day. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by professional dancers from all over the world. My teacher would invite these professionals in to instruct, and I was very fortunate to learn from them.”

She was hired for her first professional job when she turned eighteen. She worked for a time at the MGM Grand in Reno, then moved on to stints on cruise ships. Her career would take her across the globe - to a tour of Spain, where she appeared on national television, to South Korea, where she choreographed a “huge show,” before returning to the US and to work in Miami.

“I worked my way up from chorus dancer to lead to operating my own company,” she says. Jenkins was thirty years old, and wanted to start a family. “I could have kept going, but I decided I wanted to retire while I was on top.”

“I always try to explain to my students that a dancer’s career is very short lived, especially for women.” The potential for sustained injuries can shorten a dancer’s career, as well as a woman’s decision to have children.

Many people, she explains, do not consider dancing a sport, even though the physical stamina required is equivalent, if not more so, to what society widely considers athleticism. “I was talking to a professional football player, and he said that the difference between a dancer and a professional athlete was that usually the athlete gets three months rest time. Dancers, on the other hand, are constantly working out - stretching and training - to stay in shape.”

“It was my choice to be a dancer,” says Jeninks, the only artist in her family. Jimenez’s story is somewhat different. “Alfredo grew up in Argentina. He came from a family of entertainers. His grandmother made the decision for him. He wanted to be a soccer player. But he had to provide for his family. He had his first professional job when he was twelve, and was a member of the National Ballet of Argentina.”

“He’s absolutely the best male dancer I’ve ever seen,” she says.

She and Jimenez appear and perform at every Dancin’ Time recital, and will continue to do so, she says, indefinitely. “Even if we’re out there in wheelchairs - we’re going to perform, because it’s important for the kids to see that.”

“Sometimes we’ll have kids that say, ‘I can’t do that,’ and I say, ‘Look, If I can do it - you can.” Jenkins ascribes to the coda taught to her by an early teacher: “There’s no such word as can’t.”

“At the end of the year, we get notes from the kids and they’re always about how meaningful it is that we’re a part of their lives - and how much they look up to us,” she continues. “I think the parents watch us from a different standpoint, and they see our personal relationship with the kids. If a student is having a bad day, we talk to them, and usually, by the end of class, they’re smiling again. We try to go beyond the teacher/student relationship by also being their friend. That way, their moms and dads know that their children are in good hands - where they are and what they’re doing. Being a mother, I know how important that is.”

For more information, contact Dancin’ Time, 979 Mt. Aetna Road in Hagerstown, after 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, at 301-797-5696.

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