By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Colleen Murphy’s mother enrolled her in dance classes in Toledo when she was 3. “I don’t remember not dancing.”
Now as the owner of The Beat dance studio she’s the one helping to shape the moving memories of hundreds of young girls, and a handful of boys.
The Beat Dance Company just completed its 10th year in business, and its first full year in its new studio space at 1330 Brim Road in Bowling Green.
Like the parents of many of her students, her mother wanted to give her an early start. Murphy said she has mothers of children as young as 18 months inquiring about signing them up for dance lessons.
The little ones have to wait a year before they can start in the studio’s Mini Movers program. From there they can continue through high school, and beyond. College students who studied at The Beat will return in the summer for classes, Murphy said.
She said she can often spot the young students who will stick with dance. “It’s how eager they are to be here. They get here early and don’t want to leave at the end.”
The demand for dance, driven by such pop culture phenomenon as “Dancing with the Stars,” remains strong. Despite a number of other studios locally and in the area, The Beat has 250 students. Some dancers take recreational classes in a few styles while others are more serious and audition for the studio’s competitive team.
Recent auditions attracted 100 dancers.
“Dance is a nice balance between physical activity and the fun of putting on a show and wearing the costumes,” Murphy said.
For the youngest they learn basic coordination and “how to take direction from someone other than mom or dad.”
She stresses a balance of good technique while having fun, exploring movement working together with their peers, and technique specific to a style.
The older dancers work on artistry and, as their schedules get busier, learn to manage their time and see a commitment through. Some dancers participate in their high schools’ dance teams or in theater.
“It’s fun, too,” Murphy said. “We’re always having fun in class.”
And “for some it becomes their second home, they get really close to their fellow dancers and their teachers,” Murphy said,
Her business partner and assistant director Elise Hanson said she likes that they are able to approach teaching dance with a sense of fun, and yet stress technique and discipline. The dancers need to know, she said, that “when you’re struggling that’s when you’re developing.”
Those qualities, she said, will serve the students well in life, whether they go on in dance, as a few will, or into other fields, such as nursing or teaching.
Both Hanson and Murphy, who graduated from Perrsyburg High School, went to Bowling Green State University with the intention of majoring in education. In both their cases, they ended up switching to be dance majors.
“I just realized I was putting more effort into my dance classes,´Murphy said. She is now teaches full time in BGSU’s dance program.
Murphy, at the recommendation of her BGSU teacher and now colleague Tamara Starr, went on to do graduate work at the University of Hawaii.
Back in Northwest Ohio, she started The Beat in the Community Commons space in the old South Main School.
Her intent, she said, was to teach dance, but she responded to requests to teach other styles. Having outgrown that space, she moved to a studio in a strip mall on North Main Street.
Murphy decided she wanted to own her own space, and built the studio in Bellard Business Park.
For the competitive dancers, practice continues year round, with the season beginning early in the year. The company offers summer camp as well, which helps bring in new dancers.
Dance is still a female-dominated activity. Murphy said there are about 10 boys in the company now. “I’d love to have more males.”
It helps that their hip hop teacher, Torrance Nowden, is male. He’s been with The Beat since the beginning when he was a student at BGSU. He continues to commute from Cleveland to teach at the studio.
The Beat presents one annual dance recital in late spring. Preparation for that begins in earnest early in the year, though dancers continue to work on other aspects of dance in addition to the particular numbers on the program.
Even with the most advanced dancers, Murphy maintains her core philosophy: “Life is too short. They should work hard, but they should be happy. … Dance should be a source of joy for them.”