by Lorie Lewis Ham
This weekend The Dancing School in Selma is celebrating 50 years in business. We recently chatted with owner and director Beth Zobian about the school and its history.
KRL: I understand the school was started 50 years ago by your mother, can you tell us a little about her background in dance and how she came to start the school?
Beth: My mother, Deanna Driscoll, a former dancer with San Francisco Ballet, moved to Fresno in 1970. A friend of hers asked if she would teach a ballet class for her children and their friends at The Odd Fellows Hall in Selma. She agreed and soon one class turned into several per week.
She produced her first recital for her students on December 10, 1972, called Scenes from Santa’s Workshop.
About 5 years later, she moved her classes from The Odd Fellows Hall to the current building on Second Street. Built in 1887, the building had been a bank, a youth center, and dentist’s office among other things, and needed quite a renovation. With her father’s help, she turned what is now Studio A officially into The Dancing School. Gradually she expanded to include the room next door, which we now call Studio B. She hired her first teacher, Lisa Beardsley, who had been one of her first students. All of the teachers who followed became like family. When we became old enough, she employed me and my sister DeeDee to teach. In 2007, she renovated the downstairs space into Studio D and our office.
Deanna recognized that many of her students had a passion for dance and performing. She wanted to give them the opportunity to perform in their community so in 1983 she held the first auditions for The 2nd Street Dancers. That one group quickly grew and now is comprised of 21 exceptional dancers who perform all over the valley and beyond.
In 1999, I moved back to Fresno from San Francisco. Deanna guided me as I took over the responsibilities of running the business. Together, along with our amazing teachers, we have introduced thousands of young people to dance. We now teach the children and grandchildren of former students and are so grateful for the opportunity to work with so many wonderful families.
KRL: How and when did you first become involved?
Beth: I grew up at the studio taking classes in ballet, jazz and tap. I started teaching there when I was about 16. After earning a masters at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, I returned to Fresno and gradually assumed the responsibilities of directing the studio.
I’ve been taking dance classes since I was 4 years old. I am a former member of the Fresno Ballet and The Fresno Jazz Company. I taught ballet and jazz at Roosevelt School of the Arts for 6 years.
KRL: What was it like growing up around the dance school?
Beth: The studio has always had a family atmosphere. When we were young, everyone looked out for my sister and me while my mom was teaching. As we got older, we did our homework there between taking classes. Most days we would start to head home to Fresno around 9:00 p.m., eating dinner in the car. I feel lucky to have spent so much time with my mom and sister doing something we all loved.
KRL: How has it grown and changed through the years?
Beth: After a few years of renting space in The Odd Fellows Hall, Deanna found the building on 2nd Street, our current location. At first, we occupied one room in the building. I remember we didn’t even have a dedicated business phone. It was too expensive. We had a payphone that hung on the studio wall. If it would ring during class, one of the parents or even students in the class would dance over to the wall and answer it. Gradually, we expanded to run three studios in the building. We even have a real business phone now!
KRL: What are you, or will you be, doing to celebrate the anniversary?
Beth: On June 4th we will hold our 50th annual recital. In the past, we have always produced a story ballet, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Rabbit, to name a few. This year we are breaking that tradition to celebrate the last 50 years and walk down memory lane. We will present dances that represent many of the stories we have done in the past. Throughout the recital, we will show pictures of past recitals and tell the story of the studio.
KRL: How many teachers do you have now and how many classes?
Beth: The Dancing School has 4 teachers right now teaching about 25 classes per week. All the teachers have been trained by Deanna and have been at the school since they were children.
KRL: Can you tell us a little more about The 2nd Street Dancers?
Beth: The 2nd Street Dancers are a performing group at the studio aged 7 to adult. They all study ballet and jazz and perform all over the valley and sometimes beyond. In the last few weeks, they performed for The Selma Clean-Up in Lincoln Park, The Raisin Festival, and the Indianola School Carnival. Over the years they have performed at Disneyland and Great America. They have also taken several international performing trips to China, Greece, Mexico, Italy, and Cuba.
KRL: Have you been able to pass the love of dance down to your children if you have any?
Beth: I don’t have any children but my sister, who lives in Anchorage has passed her love of dance to her son, who is taking tap classes.
Beth: Dance gives us an opportunity to gain strength, flexibility, confidence, and discipline. But, most of all it feels joyful. It helps us to be present in the moment and connect with others as well as our own bodies.
KRL: Why do you feel dance is important?
KRL: What do you like best about teaching dance?
Beth: I love sharing my love of dance and seeing that love grow in my students. I love helping them to discover that they can be expressive through their bodies and that what they have to contribute is important.
KRL: Where are you located?
Beth: The Dancing School is in downtown Selma. 2013 2nd Street, Selma, CA.
KRL: Where can people find the school online and on social media?