The Chesco Dance Center celebrates its tenth anniversary
By Steven Hoffman
The Chesco Dance Center is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. On a recent afternoon, Kellie Gwaltney-Greer was standing in the sun-splashed reception area of the dance studio and reflecting on how quickly the ten years had passed since she opened her own studio.
“I can’t believe it’s been ten years,” Kellie said.
But then Mary Kate D’ Ambrosio walked by. When D’ Ambrosio started taking dance lessons at the Chesco Dance Center, she was just three years old. Now, she’s an eighth-grader. That’s as good of an illustration as any that it really has been ten years since Kellie realized her dream of operating her own dance studio.
During that decade, hundreds of students in the area have been introduced to the world of dance by Kellie and the talented faculty.
In the summer of 2009, when the Chesco Dance Center opened its doors and first started registering students, Kellie had a clear vision of what kind of dance studio she wanted: a place to train dancers in a positive, supportive environment. The students would work hard and grow as dancers, and as people, but they would have fun, too.
In that first year, about 75 students signed up to take classes at the dance studio in the London Grove Village Shopping Center. Today, there are approximately 250 students who take classes in ballet, jazz, modern/contemporary, pre-pointe, and pointe. All the students are grouped according to their age and experience, and there are classes offered for all experience levels.
Kellie said that her goal is to allow each student to progress step by step until they reach their potential, whether they are recreational dancers or pursuing a career in dance.
“I love dance,” she explained, “and I try to instill that passion in my students.”
D’ Ambrosio was one of the early enrollees at the dance studio. She has developed a love for dance, particularly ballet.
She said that Kellie and the dance instructors encourage each student to be the best that they can be, while offering support and positivity.
“They’ve given me a chance to find out who I am as a dancer,” D’ Ambrosio said.
Hundreds of dancers could say the same of their experiences at the dance center.
The Chesco Dance Center grew so quickly in its early years that they added a second 2,600-square-foot studio in Chelsea Station, just a short distance from the main studio. The additional space allows them to offer flexible schedules for busy families.
“Our goal,” explained Kellie, “is to provide a place for students to ignite their love of dance, to be part of something that is joyous and to find their true passion for the art of dance. We try to instill positivity and remind all of our dancers and parents to support and inspire each other.”
To say that dance is an important part of Kellie’s life is an understatement. She took her first lesson when she was three years old. She was an assistant instructor before she was ten, and she was teaching classes on her own by the time she was fifteen.
Her career has included a lot of memorable experiences, both as a performer and as a teacher.
She has performed with the Oxford Center for Dance, the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet, the Delaware Dance Company, the Brandywine Ballet Company, the Chester Valley Dance Academy, the Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre, the Contempra Dance Company, and the Opus One Dance Company. She also attended numerous conventions and master classes over the years.
As a dance teacher, she now has more than 27 years of experience throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. This includes serving as the co-director of the Leslie School of Dance in upstate New York for four years and as a co-founder of the non-profit New Heights Dance Theatre, which consisted of more than 60 members from around New York State. While in New York, she also directed the ballet program for Dancer’s Alley, located in Horseheads, New York. Many of her students have pursued dance careers and they have made dance an important part of their lives.
One such student is Emily Curry, who is going to the University of Tampa to study dance. Curry, D’ Ambrosio, and the other dancers say that the Chesco Dance Center offers such a positive environment that they all feel like part of a big, extended family.
The faculty at the Chesco Dance Center is very important to creating that environment. Kellie said that the faculty members have an incredible range of experience and expertise in the world of dance. They were trained by talented teachers and now they share their knowledge with the next generation of dancers. These instructors attend dance conventions, classes, workshops, and seminars on a regular basis.
“Our teachers are always learning new things,” Kellie explained. “We’re always integrating new styles of teaching.”
One of the longtime instructors at the Chesco Dance Center is Mindy Kendi, who teaches various styles of dance. She grew up in Oxford and trained in dance alongside Kellie. Kendi recalled that when she was first starting out in dance, Kellie was in a more advanced class, and she was one of the dancers that she looked up to. Now, as professionals, they work side by side.
Kendi trained with the Briansky Saratoga Ballet, the New York City Dance Alliance, and was also accepted into the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts on a full modern dance scholarship. She has spent most of her professional career training at the Broadway Dance Center, and has a wide array of professional experiences, including performing on stages from New York City to Oklahoma. Kendi worked on several movies and in television shows, as well as doing choreography for numerous productions on the East Coast.
Because the faculty has these professional experiences, their students can really learn about what it’s like to perform in a professional setting. Kendi said that they emphasize teaching the dancers to always be respectful and professional.
The Chesco Dance Center added the Gems Dance Company, which is a pre-professional training program that prepares the most dedicated dancers for a career in dance arts. It’s a rigorous training program, and the dancers perform in various competition events to learn the necessary skills to prepare them for entry into a university dance program or a professional dance company.
Kellie and the instructors spend a lot of time preparing the young dancers for tomorrow. Which is why it’s not completely surprising that no one really planned anything special for the tenth anniversary year. Everyone at the Chesco Dance Center is already focused on the next ten years. While there aren’t any specific plans to mark the milestone in 2019, the year has been filled with plenty of activities—a spring ballet, the annual recital, a trip to Walt Disney World, and an upcoming performance of “The Nutcracker.”
Performances at Walt Disney World are always special for the dancers. Kellie said that they spent three months working on perfecting the choreography leading up to the performance in June when 13 dancers took part in the memorable experience. They got to take part in a parade and also performed on the stage at Epcot.
“They were amazing,” Kellie said.
Currently, the Chesco Dance Center is preparing for a production of “The Nutcracker,” the holiday favorite. The main performance is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 21 at the Cultural Center at Lincoln University. There will also be a preview performance on Saturday, Dec. 7 at the popular annual Country Christmas event at the Avon Grove Intermediate School.
Tickets for the Dec. 21 performance of “The Nutcracker,” as well as information about classes at the Chesco Dance Center are available at the website www.chescodancecenter.com.