Sapphire Dance Company was born out of owner Justina Townsend's frustration with the philosophy of almost every other dance studio her daughters have attended. At SDC, there will be a competition team spot for every student, affordable pricing, a lack of drama and a focus on fun.
Justina Townsend’s oldest daughter Alyssa has been taking dance lessons since she was five years old. That’s 13 years of dance classes and Alyssa, now 18 years old, has loved most of them.
But, as Alyssa got older, Townsend noticed a change happening. It wasn’t fun anymore. Nor, did Alyssa feel like she was getting all she wanted out of her instruction. Plus, there was constant pressure to forgo school work and activities to rehearse for solos that would never come and routines that didn’t highlight the young dancer’s abilities.
“School should come first and students and parents should not be made to feel guilty about that,” Townsend said of her past experiences at several other studios in recent years. “I mean, we’re paying for the classes. If, as parents, we feel our child needs to miss this class we paid for, we shouldn’t be reprimanded for that. It’s not right.”
Her final straw was finding out that another local studio instructor was filming the girls’ classes without any parental consent.
“I was disgusted and mortified. The instructor didn’t have our permission and couldn’t really supply his reasoning for doing it, only saying that the video wasn’t going online,” she explained. “That wasn’t good enough. I yanked Alyssa out immediately and thought ‘I can do this better.’”
The fact that Townsend isn’t herself a dancer didn’t stop her. Over the years, she’s kept up with the instructors she felt really cared about students and enticed one to be her facility’s director. She found a Zumba instructor and Alyssa, who had been working as an assistant instructor for about a year, announced her life’s calling to teach dance as well. Armed with a small but competent staff for Sapphire Dance Company, things moved quickly. Townsend signed a lease at Cricklewood Grove Retail and Professional Center for a large one-room studio in March before starting classes at the end of April
“Some studios focus on trophies,” Townsend said. “It should be more about the kids’ self-esteem. It should be about the kids getting to share their passion for dance. By opening Sapphire Dance Company, I can make sure that happens. I can control how the kids are treated.
She added that her philosophy about how studios should be managed extends to competition teams and tryouts.
“We’ll have several teams for different levels of skill so every child will make a team,” Townsend explained. “Nobody will feel left out. Everyone will have a chance to perform.”
Now that she’s a studio owner, Townsend is also not going to tolerate parents with a penchant for dramatic displays of pressure or intimidation of other parents and kids.
“This won’t be like what you see on ‘Dance Moms,’ not that those types of mothers and instructors are not out there,” Townsend said, referring to the popular guilty pleasure T.V. show produced through the Lifetime Network. “We’re not going to focus on just one child so there’s no reason to even come here if that’s what you’re looking for.”
As a dancer and, now, an instructor, Alyssa could not agree more with her mom’s philosophy.
“When there’s one child who’s always the favorite, it makes a kid feel like they’re not good enough,” she said. “They’re trying to motivate you but they’re going about it in the wrong way. Why do you have to come to class perfect? Class is where you should be learning and working out the mistakes.”
Another key component to Townsend’s philosophy is about the cost of dance. Multiple classes are often too expensive for families with more than one child. At Sapphire Dance, great care has been taken to undercut local prices. Sibling discounts will also be available.
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When moms aren’t sharing their own horror stories from other studios, they’re asking about dance classes for grown-ups. Everywhere Townsend goes, people are asking if she’s going to offer anything for former dancers who miss lining up at the barre. Some women just want the exercise benefits of a true dance class.
“Right now, I’m offering Zumba twice a week, on Monday and Thursday evenings at 7:15 p.m.,” she said. “But, I’m looking for more instructors to offer more classes by the fall.”