As pandemic restrictions recede, dancers at Ahwatukee’s Dance Studio 111 are ready to perform on stage for an in-person audience once again.
This Saturday, June 5, the 27-year-old dance studio will offer two live public performances of ‘Happiness Is….’ Matinee is at 1 p.m. and a second show at 6 p.m.
It is Studio 111 owner Kimberly Lewis’ first stage show since June 2019, and the young dancers, ages 3 to 18, are jubilant not only to be preparing for the live show but just being together again.
“After being forced to shut down all shows with a live audience due to the pandemic, this will be the first time our dancers have been able to perform on stage with a live audience,” said Lewis.
“I chose our theme ‘Happiness Is…’ because after so much loss and sadness due to the pandemic I wanted to focus on hope and everything that makes us happy – family, love, kindness, our community and much more.”
Dance Studio 111 is one of the many local small businesses that worked hard to survive the pandemic.
For Lewis, it meant communicating with her dancers via computer. She creatively stayed in touch with her students by offering online cooking shows and bedtime story hours, and even a Drive-by Cookie Parade in which she and teachers distributed homemade cookies and a “We miss you” card to her isolated dance students.
“It was a scary time for children when our world was shut down. And to see our children being shut inside their homes, no more after school activities, was heartbreaking,” she said. “The Drive-by Cookie Parade in front of our studio was one of the memories that I will never forget.”
In September 2020, the dance studio reopened, carefully adhering to all safety protocols while offering a full dance schedule.
All dancers performed within 10’x10’ spaces in the studio.
“I know it was a difficult decision for parents to send their children to dance during a pandemic. Among them were Carlos Tosca and his wife Angie, who believed in me and that I was following all COVID protocols,” Lewis said.
“As with many small businesses, we’ve been greatly impacted by the pandemic. It meant so much to me when families like this stayed by my side during these challenging times.”
The Toscas, 23-year Ahwatukee residents, say that having their daughter Giselle remain a part of the Dance Studio 111 during the pandemic was “a blessing and a godsend.”
“Dance Studio 111 provided a much-needed opportunity for Gigi to be active and social, providing a healthy challenge and activity,” said Carlos Tosca.
“I’m a mental health professional, a licensed professional counselor, and over the past year I’ve seen many children struggling with mental health issues due to the isolation and lack of activity and socialization that the quarantine placed on children,” he said.
“The studio was a bright spot during this time and has been a panacea to the potential debilitating effects quarantine and the pandemic has had on children and families. If it weren’t for dance and Kimberly’s perseverance and vision in keeping it going over the past year, I fear the negative effect the quarantine could have had on my daughter and the other children involved with the studio.”
Tosca and his daughter Gigi are among the Daddy-Daughter Dance participants, an annual tradition in the Dance Studio 111 spring production that takes place prior to the intermission.
“The dads and daughters do a big production routine with their daughters, and it takes two months of non-stop rehearsals to prepare,” said Lewis, adding:
“It is a special time for the dads to bond with their girls, and this year there were a lot of new friendships formed. Because everyone was quarantined during the pandemic, the bonding with others was surely missed. It was good to be all together again.”
Gigi Tosca, 13, started with Dance Studio 111 at age 5, appearing in the annual Ahwatukee Nutcracker Ballet. After a hiatus, she returned to the Studio four years ago and danced the role of China Queen in 2019 with her father onstage as a party guest.
“I will forever cherish these times and the opportunity to bond with my daughter,” said Tosca.
The spring production, usually performed at the Desert Vista High School auditorium, will be at the Madison Center for the Arts, a beautiful 908-seat theatre at 5601 N. 16th in downtown Phoenix.
“We tried to get the venue for Desert Vista but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they weren’t able to commit to a June, 2021 date at the time we were in the planning stages of doing the production,” explained Lewis.
She said she hopes the traditional annual Ahwatukee Nutcracker Ballet will return this year to Desert Vista but nothing is certain.
“This fall is the first time that theaters at the Tempe Union high schools will be opening back up, so there will be a waiting list for outside theater rentals,” Lewis said.
One of the most significant changes made as COVID-19 restrictions were loosened occurred at Dance Studio 111 in mid-May when the all-person’s indoor mask mandate was made optional.
“I will tell you it was wonderful seeing our dancers’ smiling faces and facial expressions once again,” said Lewis.
“Not one time throughout the year, while requiring the children to wear masks, did they ever complain. They were just happy to be back inside the studio.”
Echoing other local small business owners, Lewis said she’s happy to see business picking up after the horrific 2020, but much ground needs to be regained to reach pre-pandemic numbers.
“We’re still trying to survive,” she said. “We’re still struggling and it’s not been easy. We lost so many students. There’s so much work to keep it going. I’m so thankful for people who stood by me and believed in our studio.”
The award-winning studio, voted Best Of Ahwatukee in 2020, is located at 4910 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 111. Registration for summer dance camp and a full array of dance classes – including the return of the Mom/Dad and Me Program for children walking through age 2, are now available online.
Tickets for ‘Happiness Is…” are available online at DanceStudio111.com. Tickets for both shows start at $20.