Professional training and life lessons
The young students who walk into Scripps Dance Centre appear confident when they enter the studio. As dance students, with hair fastened up and sporting dark leotards, they look the part — even the tiny ones.
There is a reason for this. Kelley Grant, the owner, ensures that each student learns and is treated as if they are moving toward a career as a professional dancer. Even though very few will pursue dance as a career, Grant said she wants to open up the world of dance to these children — in much the same way she was trained — so that they will be prepared for life.
Grant had an extensive career that most dancers can only dream of achieving. She grew up in Connecticut, and went to New York City to train with American Ballet Theatre. She attended Connecticut College where she studied under many professionals in the dance program.
“Then I went to Juilliard and then I ended up on Broadway working with Bob Fosse,” she said. “I was very lucky. I worked with Martha Graham, I worked with Bob Fosse, I worked with Merce Cunningham, Jose Limon. So, there are very few of us left who had the original six pioneers of dancing. I was very blessed.”
Grant eventually moved to Scripps Ranch in 1985. She raised her son in Scripps Ranch and lived here until 2007. She created her dance studio as she began to exit her career as a performer.
“I performed in San Diego with San Diego Ballet, California Ballet, Jean Isaacs, John Malashock,” she said. “As I was leaving performing, I decided I wanted to open my own studio.”
Grant’s vision for a dance studio had purpose. Beyond professional dance technique, she was determined to make sure her students learned three important life lessons: time management, commitment and dedication.
“The philosophy behind this studio is to treat them and expect from them the same as if I were training them to go on to be professional dancers. But education comes first,” she said.
The philosophy seems to have had success. Grant said she recently received letters from parents of her former dance students who were about to graduate from college this year. They thanked her for the lessons learned at the studio, lessons that helped the students through the trials of completing college courses successfully.
“I believe since only .06 percent ever make it (in dance careers), I think it’s really important that the kids have education first to make sure they have something that they can do in life because, most likely, it’s not going to be dance,” Grant explained. “But they’re trained here as if they were going to go on to be dancers.”
She calls it “the joy of seeing what a studio should be.” While not many will ever become professional dancers, if one of the students happened to pursue a dance career, they would be ready.
In spite of what might seem a very serious approach to dance, especially for young children starting out, the youngsters seem to grasp the approach gladly. Children can start lessons as young as age 3 and they graduate from the program as high school seniors at 17. Grant said the very young students can expect a lot of love when they start, then a lot of discipline as they get older.
“When they come here as little ones, it’s more nurturing,” she said. “We try to teach them how to take a class … teaching them how to commit, how to be disciplined.”
Grant said she teaches her students how to follow rules, and she expects a lot from them. They must be dressed properly, they must have their hair up properly, they must have a lot of energy, they must respect their teachers, they must respect themselves and they must never give up.
The approach seems to work. The kids really seem to take their training seriously, and they make long lasting friendships.
“Most of the parents are here because they want their children to go to college,” Grant said. “They want them to also have two to four hours a day of a discipline, an exercise and another niche outside of school.”
Considering the fact that a large amount of the dance students come from Scripps Ranch, it’s easy to figure education is a priority. Grant said 90 percent of the kids who start taking her classes when they are little stay with the studio through high school, and all those kids go to college.
“I don’t have anybody who graduated from here who did not go to college,” she said.
The studio teaches the Cecchetti method of ballet, which involves rigorous training with an eye toward balance and the laws of anatomy. New students start out with ballet and tap lessons. Tap provides them the connection between dance and music while the ballet helps them learn the discipline necessary to be able to take a class.
Grant said she has the best teachers.
“I like to have a balance between teachers that are only teaching — more master teachers — and I like teachers that are still performing so that the kids can go to see them perform and get inspired,” Grant explained. “I think it’s necessary to have a balance of both of these. Then I have some student teachers who are in college and are learning to teach.”
Grant said at age 9 or 10 the children come to a certain level in which they begin to focus. They start to have a passion for what they are doing, and sometimes it’s not dance. Sometimes it’s soccer, for instance. But if they choose dance: “ then it gets really exciting,” Grant said. “They’re just like sponges. It’s always the biggest joy for a teacher.”
Vickie Deardurff is the studio’s manager who keeps things running smoothly on a daily basis, and she said she really enjoys interacting with the students.
“I love it … Some come in every day and give me a hug,” she said. “They’re so happy to be here. I see them grow and change … It’s such a neat feeling.”
Scripps Dance Centre is known for having two big dance shows each year, and for not being involved in dance competitions. Grant, who judged dance competitions for 10 years, explained that since education is at the forefront at her studio, “there isn’t time in the day to do technique, practice for competitions and study.”
She only schedules two shows a year, one in December and one in July, because she wants to allow only 15 minutes in each class to go toward practicing moves for a performance. She wants 3/4th of the classes to focus on teaching dance technique and doesn’t want more than 15 minutes spent on rehearsing. “I want them learning,” she said.
The performances, held at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center on Executive Drive in the University City area, is a dance extravaganza featuring elaborate costumes, always ending with a huge finale by the high school seniors.
Scripps Dance Centre students of every age perform in the shows. The studio only holds one major rehearsal before each show, and the cost of the costumes is not marked up, the studio does not make a profit from costume sales. In addition, the costumes may be re-used for other performances. Well-known lighting expert Andrew Miller takes time from his busy schedule to create the great effects for the studio’s shows twice each year.
This year’s summer performance is scheduled for Saturday, July 15, with shows at 2 and 7 p.m.
Scripps Dance Centre is now in its 20th year. Grant originally opened the studio on Scripps Poway Parkway where it was located for 10 years. She moved it to its present location at 12840 Danielson Court, Suite A, in Poway. Visit scrippsdancecentre.com.