July 2017

Alliance Dance Academy: A Community of Dance

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

In Motion
A group of little ladies get a lesson in dance from Rochelle Clarkson at Alliance Dance Academy in Bluffton.

Rochelle Clarkson, owner of Alliance Dance Academy in Bluffton, is just where she was always meant to be, and is teaching so much more than dance. “I wanted this to be a community dance studio,” she said. “I want anyone who walks through the door to feel welcome. I don’t care if you’ve danced a hundred years or not at all.”

While the road to here has been a bit circuitous, each place and experience along the way has refined Clarkson’s passion and ability to bring dance, along with a real sense of community to her one-of-a-kind, one-year-old academy. “That dance thing draws you back in,” she said. After dancing from childhood through college, performing professionally, facing a career-ending illness, dancing at Disney World, founding and ultimately retiring from her Florida dance business, working for other studios and retiring again, it took catching up with an old friend to bring clarity to her future.

“On a business vacation to Asheville, my husband and I caught up with friend and motivational speaker Brian Biro, and he said, ‘You know, we’re all put on this earth to do one thing. It is your purpose in life to find out what that is and then give it away,’” Clarkson said. After years of pushing against the pull that dance had on her, and a couple of attempted retirements, everything clicked into place. “I thought, okay, now I know what I’m doing. Anything in the arts you don’t do for the money, you do it for the love of what you do and wanting to share it with other people. I excused myself from the table and went outside to call my mom. I said, ‘Mom, guess what I’m doing?’” Alliance Dance Academy opened less than six months later.

Offering classes for children ages two and a half to adults throughout the year, and summer camps and workshops, ADA reflects Clarkson’s vision. “I’m from the school, that probably none of the kids that walk through these doors will be a dancer, professionally. Not that they couldn’t. If that’s what you want to do, I will help you all I can. What I want to instill in these kids is dedication to doing something you love, a desire to do it the best you can, and the discipline to make it all work.”

As students advance from ADA’s half-hour Tiny Stars class through Twinkling Stars, Shining Stars I, and Shining Stars II, the number of days and amount of time scheduled in-studio is a departure from more commonly rigorous, programs. “Our STARS are our Company. The kids are here two days a week. If your kids are getting the technique in class, you don’t have to rehearse them to death. They get an hour and a half ballet class, then they get an hour jazz class, and then they have an hour of rehearsal after that. They come Tuesdays and Thursday. There are no Saturday rehearsals except for the two weeks before we go to a competition or a convention.”

ADA STARS are required to go to two conventions and one competition every year, and all ADA students dance in their annual spring recital. “I want these kids to be well-rounded kids,” Clarkson said. “I want them to be able to go to Wednesday night church; I want them to be able to have sleepovers; I want them to be able to do all the things kids should do—go to football games on Friday nights, and to father-daughter dances.”


A future ballerina in training strikes a pose.
Two young students listen carefully to instruction from their teacher.

Accountability is encouraged and expected from every student. “I put the responsibility on the kid, which is not normal these days. If your kid has the wrong tights on, I’m not going to come to you; I’m going to come to the kid. I make them bring in their report cards and show me they are doing all the things they are supposed to.” Open just over a year, Clarkson’s approach has certainly caught on. The ADA studio community has reached nearly 200 families, and growing.

With two studios, couches, and a monitor for watching classes in-progress, families are always welcome in ADA’s comfy lobby. “We tried to make it very family-friendly, user-friendly,” Clarkson said. “I don’t want them to think they have to drop and run. If they want to stay here and hang out, we welcome that.”

Leotards, tights, and shoe fittings are also available to make being a part of the ADA community even easier.
Moving to the Lowcountry in 2004, Clarkson has created a strong community around herself and her business. “You have to give back to the community; especially as a new business.” That included a fun project this spring with Bluffton’s River Ridge Academy during ADA’s annual recital. “Newly inducted National Junior Honor Society kids who needed community service hours came and did their community service hours keeping the kids entertained in the back, behind the scenes at recital.”

In addition to ADA’s inviting and user-friendly studio space, kid safety is the first priority. Instructors are carefully vetted and go through thorough background checks. Additionally, Clarkson and all ADA instructors have the same teaching philosophy, all have college degrees, and all have at least six years of training in teaching dance. “In my world, if you are focused enough to get a college degree, then you are focused enough to teach here,” she said.

Connecting ADA and herself with the community has forged a beneficial circle-of-life sort of system, where Clarkson has cultivated in-trade relationships with local business owners and neighbors whose children (or themselves) want to dance. “I get my hair cut as a trade-out. I work out as a trade-out. I eat dinner as a trade-out,” she said, building on the idea that ADA is not only a place to dance, but a place where everyone is welcomed into the community and encouraged.

When not behind the ADA welcome desk or teaching, Clarkson and husband Bob Clarkson, owner and broker at his company The Alliance Realty Group, are on their sailboat, Turning Pointe. “We love it,” she said. “When you go out there, you just disconnect. You’re there with nature and the birds and the dolphins, and when we drop anchor at night, it’s just us.”

One day Clarkson may attempt retirement again. Until then, she is just where she was always meant to be: sharing the joy of dance, building a community where everyone is welcomed and encouraged, and where Turning Pointe waits for the weekends to set her sails to the wind.

Alliance Dance Academy is located at 21 Scott Way, Bluffton. For more information, please visit alliancedanceacademy.com or call (843) 757-8277.

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