Dance steps, self-expression and cute outfits
Way back at the beginning -- before all the lessons and recitals, conventions and classes -- dance was all about the outfits for Dana Riste.
That was in 1976. Riste had never set foot in Brenda's School of Dance, and the only thing she knew about dance class was that she had a friend who was in in them, her friend got to wear a cute outfit and Riste wanted one.
"I just thought the costumes were great," said Riste.
So, she came for the clothes. But Riste stuck around for very different reasons. She discovered the way dance allowed her to express herself, and she kept coming back. She started as a student, became an assistant at 13 and a teacher at 16. Now, 34 years after she took her first class, she's taking over. With Brenda's School of Dance owner Brenda Lendzion ready to retire after more than 40 years teaching dance, Riste took over last week as the school's new owner.
For Riste and Lendzion alike, the move seemed natural. They'd actually talked about making the transition five years ago, but both decided it wasn't the right time. Not long after, Riste was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's glad now that she waited, but when Lendzion came to her earlier this year to say she was ready to leave, Riste knew she was ready to take over.
"I don't think it's really sunk in yet, but Brenda and I had so much more than just a working relationship," Riste said. "We were never really boss-employee."
The arrangement seems ideal for both. Lendzion gets to pass her business on to someone she knows and trusts, and Riste gets to jump into a studio that is well established in the community. Brenda's has been around long enough that Riste is teaching kids whose grandparents attended the school.
She loves that part of the job. She loves helping people learn the steps of a new dance, and she loves seeing something that started out as choreography in her mind come to life with the help of dancers.
One week into her time at the helm Riste is still getting settled in. She plans a few changes. The name, for one. When Riste took over, Brenda's became Synergy Dance Center. Riste said she's always liked the word, and the idea of two things coming together to form a whole greater than the individual parts fits well with the idea of dancers coming together to create a performance. She plans a little redecorating around the studio, too. But other than that things will remain much as they've always been. All of the studio's current teachers will stay on.
Synergy will continue to offer classes for students from 2 1/2 years old to adult, and in disciplines including tap, jazz, ballet, contemporary and hip-hop.
The change of ownership came as a surprise to many. When they announced it at Lendzion's final recital Riste's younger daughter started to cry. Riste asked why, and her daughter said she didn't understand why Brenda had to leave. When Riste explained it was a good thing for Lendzion -- that Mom wasn't forcing anybody out, in other words -- her daughter seemed to understand.
Taking over the studio can seem a little bit intimidating at times. In her first week Riste was still getting used to the idea she was the one making the decisions. But she's excited about what lies ahead of her. She's known for a long time she wanted to run a studio of her own. She wants to help future generations of young dancers find the passion she did, and she's thrilled she gets to do it in the place where she's spent so much of her life.
"I've done other things (but) I've never thought of quitting this," Riste said. "This has kind of always been my lifetime dream."
And it all started with a cute outfit.