Senior Sydney Sanders spent years training to be a dancer and chose to study dance at Ohio University to improve her technique and skills. But it was her internship with Factory Street Studio (FSS) that inspired her to focus her future on helping young dancers reach their goals.
At FSS, a nonprofit dance studio based in Athens, the staff members promote dance technique, self-esteem and noncompetitive attitudes for dancers. By offering classes for all ages, the studio provides a warm and welcoming environment for anyone who comes through the door.
Due to growing interest, the studio has added teachers and interns to its crew. Athens, like many small towns, lacks dance teachers, so the studio’s board of directors turned to Ohio University’s School of Dance, Film and Theater for help. In recent years, many dance professors and students studying dance have taught class in the vibrant rooms of FSS during and after their time at Ohio.
Sanders felt the impact of FSS through her internship experience. Last year, Sanders went to the studio twice a week to help create lesson plans and develop dancers’ technique.
“I had people behind me that were trying to improve my skills while I’m being the teacher and improving the younger one’s skills,” she says. “So, that whole comparison is really nice to feel.”
Sanders’ experience at FSS has reinforced her desire to become a dance teacher and start after-school dance programs for public school students. Watching the effect her teaching can have on younger dancers is the fire that fuels her dreams. She is now a full-time staff member at FSS and teaches tap and jazz classes.
“It is so nice to see them have that lightbulb moment when something just clicks and it makes sense,” she says. “Those are so impactful for me as a teacher, and every student should have the opportunity to have those lightbulb moments.”
Dancers can sign up for classes ranging from pointe and jazz to African dance and capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts that combines elements of acrobatics, fight and dance.
Maria Warmke, FSS’s business manager, coordinates with parents and dancers and takes care of other duties that keep the studio running. Before that, she was a dancer herself and took classes at the studio’s original location on Court Street.
As Maria walks past hand-painted walls and climbs over backpacks in the lobby, she describes the importance FSS has had on her and her family.
“We want our kids to work together and to love for each other and care for each other and not compete,” she says. “So, to me as a mom, that is the most important thing: the cooperative spirit.”
Jayne Warmke, Maria’s 17-year-old daughter, dances at the studio and has felt that compassion from her peers ever since her first tap class 12 years ago.
“It’s just a safe place. Like, whenever I’m having a bad day it’s like happy little sunshine. And I wouldn’t know any of the people in this room if it weren’t for dance,” Jayne says. “… It’s nice to have people depending on you, because I need people to expect stuff from me or I’m never going to get anything done. So, if I have a whole class of people depending on me as much as I depend on them, it helps.”
Maria credits part of the dancers’ love for the art to FSS’s work as a non-profit studio. By offering a welcoming environment, the dancers, both young and old, can find success in dance without judgment.
“We accept everybody and anybody, no matter what,” Maria says. “… It really does give [FSS] a sense of community because everything we make goes right back into what we’re building. We’re always trying to improve the studio.”
The sense of community is also expressed through the high school students’ junior and senior year capstone classes, where the dancers raise money to go on a trip to further their knowledge of dance outside of Athens. Last year, the dancers visited University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University, where they created their own routines.
For some senior students, that trip is the push they need to pursue a career in dance. From the start, dancers at FSS are surrounded by Ohio dance students and teachers, and that influence is vital to shaping their future plans. This year, four FSS students applied to Ohio’s dance department, hoping to advance their skills at the collegiate level.
Ohio University and the studio have changed Sanders’ life in the same way she has changed the dance experience of her students. Dancers such as Maria and Jayne have felt the cycle of movement that has been going for years, and the studio has no intention of stopping it now.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand the impact [dance] has on such a small level, but it’s not really that much of a small level. It is a big deal,” Sanders says. “I think people just need more exposure to it, especially the kids. I just always think about if I didn’t have my after school program, what would I be doing right now? I have no idea.”