Dance studio

Factory Street Studio dancer students practice at a recent tech rehearsal for the spring concert performances this weekend. Provided photo.

One thousand or more young dancers have stepped and glided across the hardwood floors of the Factory Street Studio in its four decades in operation, and their legacy will be central to a 40-year celebration planned for this weekend at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville.

The celebration for Factory Street Studio and Moving Parts, Inc., will be part of the dance studio’s annual spring concert. It takes place this Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students.

Cita Strauss, who founded the Factory Street Studio, recalled in a short written history how she and Marina Walchli bought the mailing list of ballet teacher Debby Westfall and created a business partnership, Court Street Studio. That was in the uptown Worstell Building that now contains The Athens NEWS on its second floor. Their landlord was Brian Blauser of B&B Studios, who still works as a professional photographer based in Athens.

In four years, Strauss said, the studio made a successful transition from a partnership to a sole proprietorship to a nonprofit with “a small but willing board.”

In 1985, the studio moved to 9 Factory St. on Athens’ West Side, near the old train depot, where it remained for 16 years. (That building, a former ice house, is due to be demolished later this year to make room for an expansion of OU’s medical school.) 

“This (after the move to Factory Street) is when the studio began to flourish,” Strauss wrote. “We had excellent teachers, many of whom, like Linda Seaton, Nancy Doran, Tricia Zalewski and Kim Gregg, went on to become assistant directors, or like Adele Gribou, and former student Larissa Trout, directors. The range of classes increased as did the technique of the students.” 

Strauss resigned in 2000, she wrote, and left the studio “in the capable hands of Adele Gribou and a mighty board, who through their fierce efforts proceeded to purchase the building on Ohio Avenue for its permanent home.” 

“The studio has thrived since and has become a hallmark of exceptional teaching – continuing the mission and values that were originally set out,” according to Strauss.

Ginger Schmalenberg, who serves on the Factory Street Studio Board, noted that the Factory Street Studio’s new artistic director, Angelica Bell, who holds an MFA in Dance  from Ohio State University, is continuing “the spirit of community that FSS embodies.” 

AS FOR THIS WEEKEND’S performance, Strauss said Factory Street Studio alums are expected to travel from as far away as California, Virginia, New York and Utah to attend. At the same time, however, many studio alums still live in Athens.

Schmalenberg said attendees at the two concerts this weekend will watch performances by 118 dancers, ages 5 to adult. 

“During the spring concert, every tech level is represented,” she said. “We have 31 pieces, from Tech 1 to Tech 5 (kindergarten through high School). The genres represented are tap, jazz, ballet, pointe, modern, hip-hop. “

As a special tribute for Factory Street being in the community for 40 years, according to Schmalenberg, Stuart’s lobby will feature displays of “Factory Street memorabilia such as old programs, photos, posters displayed and several monitors running past concerts that we have on DVD.”

The public is also invited to a reception in the Stuart’s lobby immediately after the concert on Saturday (around 3:30 p.m.). “We will be celebrating the 40 years with past and present students and all of those from our community near and far who have made Factory Street what it is today,” Schmalenberg said. “We always want to shine some light on our graduating seniors as well!”

SCHMALENBERG ESTIMATED that more than 1,000 students have danced for Factory Street Studio in the past 40 years. 

“We have current dancers whose parents danced at the studio, and even a few kids whose grandparents danced at the studio,” she said. “Wherever one goes in Athens, if you mention Factory Street, there is always someone who will say, ‘I danced at Factory Street, or I attended concerts, I look forward to it every year’ regaling with stories of dancing at Memorial Auditorium or at a local school, or some story of their experience with the organization. It is really an institution in our community that has affected so many, either as dancer, teacher or audience participant.” 

Her own connection with the studio goes back to her own college years in Athens, according to Schmalenberg.

“I have been involved with the studio since I was a college student and used to babysit kids so that their moms could take a dance class,” she recalled, dating that time as “probably” 1991. Her daughter and sons all danced at Factory Street Studio.

LONGTIME FORMER DIRECTOR Strauss praised the studio’s board and directors for their support over the years.

“The studio would not be where it is today if it were not for the continuity of an amazing Board of Directors and the talented and excellent artistic directors that we have been fortunate to have at our helm throughout these years,” she said.

She added that the Factory Street Studio has a gratifying human legacy. “We have many graduates who are still in the field of dance, art education, children’s education, public administration,” she said. “We believe that we’ve helped encourage all of our students to be more aware of the world of dance in particular and art in general.”

She emphasized the benefits brought to Factory Street Studio by its relationship with Ohio University’s Dance Division, which itself is celebrating 50 years. The studio was started by two OU dance students a decade after the Dance Division was formed.

Schmalenberg praised “that department’s continued involvement with the studio in the form of a community campus partnership.  

“Our little area of southeast Ohio has a high-quality children’s dance program because of the OU Dance Division,” she said. “Their faculty and students have continued to support our studio by teaching and volunteering for our organization for the last 40 years.” 

This, according to Schmalenberg “is a mutually beneficial relationship as the studio gets dance expertise from faculty and free teaching from OU students as they gain experience to enhance their education in teaching dance.  

Schmalenberg explained what the Factory Street Studo has meant to Athens over the years.

“Factory Street isn’t just about dance education…,” she said. “… The studio is about community and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. I feel that the 40 years being in the community is a testament to the community.”

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