The move was unexpected and unwanted, but ultimately proved to be for the best. More than a dozen young dance students and their teachers shared memories and hopes as the group bid adieu to their old dance studio and cut the ribbon on a new one.
For the past 14 years, Christine Kohler's school, Danceworks, called 1 West Main St. in Denville home. Even as enrollment grew over the years, from 75 students to more than 300, making for cramped quarters, Kohler and her team enjoyed their bird's-eye view of downtown Denville, including "Big Den," their name for the clock tower across the street. Kohler described the move as "bittersweet" and said, "We weren't expecting it. The lease had two more years."
A new landlord and a clause in the lease changed things for Danceworks. The owner of Denville Shoe Repair bought the building and, according to Kohler, did not like the noise overhead produced by the dance school. There were some nervous moments at first when Kohler thought she would have to close the school, but through a "fluke" found another place in town, at 469 East Main St., which is bigger and allows for two studio spaces as well as a larger waiting area.
Despite the larger, brighter new locale, leaving the place that was home is never easy. Kohler decided to try and make the transition better for herself and for her students by holding a "closing ceremony." On Feb. 24, students, teachers, and assorted relatives gathered at the old studio for the last time. They formed a circle in the middle of the studio, each holding a flower. Then one by one, they shared a memory, some touching, some funny, and placed the flower in a basket, representing a basket of memories to be carried with them to their new school.
The sentiments expressed included, "For watching the girls grow up here," "For Miss Chris, teaching us all how to dance," "memories of our time together," "for every time I fell in this room," "for scratchy speakers," and "for being my second home for 11 years." One woman, who identified herself only as the grandmother of a student, was so moved by the ceremony that she sought out Neighbor News to say, "There was so much love in this room for the children. She's a wonderful teacher.
Girls, 17 and 20 years old, keep coming back. That says something."
Heather LaVallee, 13, a student at the school for nine years, said that her first year stands out as the most memorable. She told Neighbor News that she still remembers the moves from her dance routine that year, when she was Dorothy in "Over the Rainbow."
Also on hand for the farewells and festivities was Robin Bachman, whose mother, Patricia Hirt Burns, owned the studio from 1950 to 1992, when it was called the Livingston School of Dance. "I grew up there, I did my homework there, I taught there from sophomore year of high school until after college" said Bachman.
The group, with basket, balloons, and dance canes in hand, descended the narrow staircase to the street and walked the mile or so, to what is to be their new home. Once there, the tears were replaced with celebration and dance.
Several moms who spent a lot of time at the old studio, shared their thoughts about the day. Joan Swauger of Montville, the mother of dance student, Coral, said she won't miss climbing up the stairs with her son in tow. "This is a beautiful studio. It's going to work out well."
Micki Opsal of Denville, is the mom of two dancers: Amber, who has been a student for 14 years, and younger sister, Lindsay, a student for seven years. Of the old place, she said, "At the beginning it was fine, but every year Danceworks grew."
She did not expect her daughters to be upset by the move, but at the ceremony, Opsal said she saw it in their eyes: "There were a lot of memories. They grew up there. Especially for the older one, it was a home away from home."
Denville residents Jackie Rupert and Pat Zasadzinski each have daughters who have been Danceworks students for 12 years. Rupert said her daughter, Liz, was saddened by the "For Rent" signs in the old studio's windows, but is excited about the new place. "It's a family when you go someplace for 12 years," observed Rupert.
Zasadzinski's daughter, Cathy, has collected photographs over the years of recitals and has put them in a scrapbook. Her mom said she was taking pictures of the new place and will add them to the end of the book.
As the moms talked to Neighbor News, the students were already breaking in the new studio with dance performances. Kohler summed it all up, saying, "The heart and soul of Danceworks is not the building."