by Terry Rogers
Soon, the former Argo’s Linoleum location will be filled with twirling ballerinas and tap dancers when Tatiana Akinfieva Dance Academy (TADA) and Diamond Dance Company (DDC) move to the building. According to Aimee Voshell String, TADA Director, the organization had known for several years that they would need to find a larger facility. TADA/DDC contracted to purchase the building on North Washington Street in Milford.
“The dancers are growing which means they need more space to dance,” String said. “Our company has grown which makes rehearsing the entire company in our current space more challenging and the demand for instruction at TADA has really taken off. Our current facility has two dance studios in it. Last year, we attempted to buy ourselves a bit of time by renting another building which we use as a satellite studio. This year, in addition to using the main building and our satellite space, we entered into a partnership with the Music School which allows us to use space in their building once a week for several hours. Despite all of this, we had to turn away over a dozen students this year. We are really looking forward to accommodating more students under one roof.”
The new building will allow TADA/DDC to have a larger parent room, two bathrooms, a dressing room, a costume room and three large dance studios, all under one roof. One of the studios will be large enough that TADA/DDC will be able to hold small performances in their own building.
“I have a vivid memory of standing in the office/costume room of our very first building which was above the Barber Shop in Walnut Street and having a conversation about needing 20 students to cover our bills,” String said. “We honestly didn’t know if we would make it. We did make it that year and students began flocking to our studio after that. We doubled, tripled and then quadrupled our enrollment. It has been the most humbling experience of my life and we all feel so honored that parents trust and believe in us.”
Shannon Hardee, a parent volunteer, pointed out that from those humble beginnings, TADA/DDC now has students attending the studio from many districts beyond Milford, including Caesar Rodney, Capital, Cape Henlopen, Polytech, Sussex Academy of Arts and Science, Woodbridge, lake Forest as well as several private Christian schools.
TADA/DDC began when Tatiana Akinfieva-Smith decided to retire for what Misty Yencer, DDC Dance Company Artistic Director and granddaughter of Akinfieva-Smith, says was the fourth time in her career in 1999. At the time, Akinfieva-Smith was ending several seasons with Eastern Shore Ballet Theater in Salisbury while guest teaching at “A Dance Class,” then owned by Maria Fry in Milford.
“Many parents of the Milford dancers approached Tatiana and Maria with a proposal to begin a non-profit community-based ballet company right in Milford,” Yencer said. “It did not take much convincing. Tatiana rarely, if ever, turned down an opportunity when dance was involved. With a decade of hands-on involvement with the company, Tatiana finally retired.” Soon after her retirement, Akinfieva-Smith passed away in 2011. Enrollment for the dance company had slowly dwindled after Akinfieva Smith retired.
In an effort to grow enrollment, the board of directors, several motivated families, String, Yencer and many dedicated supporters decided it was time to open classes up to the community. DDC began its first official season in 2012, holding their first recital at Milford High School in June of the following year.
“We were lucky enough to secure Bliss Soucek as a ballet instructor and Tori Brown-O’Brien, Tatiana’s great-granddaughter, as a tap and jazz/lyrical instructor,” Yencer said. “At the close of our inaugural season in 2013, we decided to update the name of the dance school to honor Tatiana. At the beginning of our second season, the school of Diamond State Dance Company became Tatiana Akinfieva Dance Academy, although many people have come to know us as TADA. Over the past several years, we have grown from about 20 to 25 dancers to more than 100.”
String believes what sets TADA apart is that they are a big family and that they genuinely love their students.
“Our students know we have their backs in and outside of the dance studio,” String said. “Both parents and students really respond to that. Our staff is committed to teaching them great technique but we are also committed to teaching them great technique, but we are also committed to helping raise great people. In addition to technique, our students learn about commitment, teamwork, dedication and the value of hard work and responsibility. Those lessons will be with them the rest of their lives no matter where they go.”
Yencer seconds String’s beliefs regarding TADA/DDC’s success but adds that the fact that the instructors have extensive dance training, experience and education. In addition, more than half the instructors are teachers or educators in the public school system, holding advanced degrees in the field of education.
“Understanding child development and proper pedagogy is a skill that has been irreplaceable in my dance teaching experience,” Yencer said. “Working with kids is a monumental and significant task. We spend a great deal of time with our dancers. It is important to us that we provide them with not only positive and meaningful experiences, but also instill in each of them the importance of respect for others, honesty and compassion. In addition, to value hard work, exhibit perseverance and know how to overcome defeat. There are undoubtedly many things that have influenced our continued growth over the past several years.”
The new space will allow TADA/DDC to hold all of their classes and rehearsals in one building. However, they still plan to hold many performances in the community.
“We’ve been honored to perform at various community festivals, Milford High School and the Milford Senior Center and we look forward to maintaining all of those partnerships,” String said. ‘This year marks DDC’s 20th Anniversary.”
The annual production of the Nutcracker will be held on Saturday, December 1st at 7 PM and Sunday, December 2nd at 2 PM at Milford High School. In the spring, the group will perform “Copellia” on Saturday, March 23 at 7 PM and on Sunday, March 24 at 2 PM, also at Milford High School. Dancers will compete in the Youth American Grand Prix ballet competition from November 2 through 4 as well as the Delaware Dance Festival on February 23 and 24.
“We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Milford Community for helping to make this dream come true,” String said. “Thank you for recognizing the value of what we do and bring to our community and working to keep us in Milford. Wes Cromer of Masten Realty, Eric Norenberg, City Manager, Sara Pletcher of Downtown Milford Inc., former Mayor Bryan Shupe and, of course, the Argo Family, were all instrumental in this process.
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