Teachers at Premier Academy of Performing Arts Create Passionate, Well-Rounded Dancers
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
“Music was always a big part of my life,” recalls Meaghan Molsberry, who grew up in western Montana. “We’d have these big family gatherings where we’d all square dance.”
Dancing was in her blood but unfortunately there was no access to dance studios in her rural community. When she was two years old, however, her family relocated to Indiana. No sooner had her mom, Dionne, unpacked the boxes did she have Meaghan enrolled in tap class. Dance lit a fire within her that has only grown over time. By the time she was 18, Meaghan was teaching several genres of dance, though jazz and musical theatre were her favorites.
She majored in theatre dance at Ball State University, expanding her knowledge base as she studied various jazz innovators like Fosse and Luigi. She also had the honor of training under renowned choreographers Mia Michaels and Tyce Diorio.
“I grew up in just one studio so in college I soaked up knowledge like a sponge,” says Meaghan, who first started working at Premier Academy of Performing Arts in Avon five years ago. Both she and Dionne are full-time employees at Wayne Township Schools. Dionne, in her 29th year, works as secretary for administration over testing while Meaghan, in her 12th year, works in the career center.
When Premier’s former owner was preparing to move to Florida, she asked Meaghan if she would be interested in buying the place. It was a no-brainer for Meaghan who instantly knew this was what she was born to do. Her first task as owner involved putting her mom at the front desk.
“Growing up, mom worked the front desk at the dance studio I attended,” Meaghan says. Dionne was eager to be back in a studio.
“I like to pretend I’m a dancer,” says Dionne with a chuckle. “My favorite thing though is to hug the students and be their biggest cheerleader.”
Students at Premier, who range in age from 18 months to 60 years, may take tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, contemporary, lyrical and musical theatre. Premier currently employs 12 teachers with diverse backgrounds and strengths. One was part of a ballet company. Another was a Rockette. One was a gymnast who took up dancing later in her career. Another is a graphic artist who designs the programs for Premier’s recitals. Two are former members of the Avon High School Dance team. One was a former dancer on the WNBA Fever Inferno Hip Hop Dance Team. Meaghan also has several nurses and moms on staff.
“It’s good for the girls to have such diverse role models,” says Meaghan, who in her youth didn’t dance competitively but rather did performance dancing for Riley Hospital, autism camps and other community outreaches.
“We know the importance of recreational dancing as well as competitive dancing. Both have equal importance in our studio,” says Meaghan, noting that she wants to give her kids a unique perspective on what it is to dance in high school and beyond.
While some of her students dream of dancing professionally by becoming an Indiana Pacer’s Pacemate or trying their hand at dancing in music videos or for musical theatre productions, others hope to teach dance. Regardless of where they end up, their time at Premier will have helped them along their career paths.
“The structure they get in dance class they can carry into any profession, whether that’s a dentist, a school teacher or a chef,” Meaghan says. “Our goal is to teach our students life skills that they’ll use in the real world. These skills include team building, responsibility, respect, collaboration and discipline.”
Most girls are at the studio two to three days a week. Students working on multiple genres may be at the studio up to five days a week. Meaghan insists, however, that each student meets the GPA requirement or else she’ll reduce their days in the studio.
“Life does not revolve around the studio. Life revolves around your growth,” Meaghan says. “I tell them, ‘A house, a car or just about any object can be repossessed but an education is yours forever.’”
To expand her students’ horizons in the arts, she takes them to musical theatre or dance shows such as The Nutcracker, Newsies and The Lion King.
“We’re doing everything in our power to make sure musical theatre stays alive and well,” says Dionne, noting that last spring they took 90 kids to the production of Wicked.
“We may know The Wizard of Oz story inside and out, but when you see the wonder and amazement in a 6-year-old’s eyes, that’s special,” Meaghan says.
They also took a group of teen dancers to see choreographer Travis Wall’s dance group.
“They talked about it non-stop for a week,” Meaghan says. “They realize these are real people and this could be them if they work hard and have faith.”
This past summer a number of Premier’s students competed in a National Dance Competition in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
“Before any national competition, you have to have that talk with your girls where you tell them to go out on stage, do their best and be happy with their performance,” Meaghan says.
It’s an important message to relay when a whopping 1,200 acts will be performing. Still, their 43-member group routine won the national championship title.
Despite the adrenaline rush of coming home with a 6-ft. tall trophy, that wasn’t the highlight of the weekend for Meaghan and Dionne. That came when they were stopped on the streets of Gatlinburg by a total stranger who relayed this story:
“I have to tell you about something one of your dancers did,” the woman said. “My little girl got nervous while performing and she ran off stage in tears. One of your older girls went up to her and told her it was going to be okay — that they had all been there and that she should just keep dancing.”
The woman’s daughter returned to the stage with a bright smile and finished her routine with pure joy and renewed confidence.
“It was one of my proudest moments,” Meaghan says. “We have really good kids, and their parents are incredibly supportive as well. We feel so blessed.”
“Oh, no. Meaghan’s got the talent,” Dionne insisted.
“But Dionne, your daughter is you,” the colleague said.
And it’s true.
“The apple didn’t even bother to fall off of the tree when it comes to me and my mom,” says Meaghan with a grin. “So much of Premier’s success is because my mom helped create this wonderful atmosphere for these girls.”
The mother-daughter duo joke that they can’t believe how much time they spend together without getting on each other’s nerves. But the truth of the matter is that their bond grows stronger daily.
“This whole adventure has brought us closer,” Dionne says.
Premier Academy of the Performing Arts is located at 8405 East US Hwy 36 behind Avon Barber Shop. For more information, call 317-696-9043 or visit premieracademyofdance.com.