Imagine, a young girl, at the precious age of six, heading off to her first dance lessons in Brooklyn – pursuing what she loves to do, immersing herself in ballet, tap, jazz, and more. She remembers the studio being over a pizza shop and her first instructor as a beautiful woman who danced professionally. Maybe she also thinks of the beat, the counts, where to place her feet, her hands, her hips, how the different shoes fit or feel, the way they move and sound on the hardwood floor, and looking at herself in a costume for the first time. These moments, now distant memories, were forming the first chapter of a young girl’s book of dance.
Just a few years later, she added gymnastics classes and at 12 years old moved out of the city with her family to Pine Bush. Passionate dancing continued and a few area residents may remember her dancing with her brother, Sheldon, at various functions doing the Hustle and disco moves. Sharon Mitchell went on to Syracuse University and as a sophomore become the dance team Captain before returning to her hometown to open her own studio. After teaching for 35 years, the doors are now closed at the Mitchell Performing Art Center, and for the first time Mitchell feels unsure about what the next steps will be.
“The business was doing well,” Mitchell explains, “financially, and the kids, and competitions, but…” her voice trails off for just a moment before continuing, “It’s just that I would have to have the studio open from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. and if I had 30 or 40 kids in the studio before, total, now I would only be allowed to have four or six to allow for spacing. Kids loved coming to the studio, you know, they came right after class to their studio family and they might just hang out and now – I just wasn’t ready. This was a devastating decision for me.”
Mitchell takes a breath before continuing, “I just didn’t feel myself and I am a strong person. I had my last class just a few days ago, and right now, I don’t know if I will ever dance again. I don’t know if I have anything to say anymore artistically. (The) Covid-19 virus has made me take a pause and now I have to find my way.”
Before closing, past and present students sent letters, stopped by in person, called and texted well wishes to the woman who many identified as more than a teacher or instructor but rather as a second mother.
Three recent Pine Bush High school graduates; Greg Michaels, Saige Riddick, and Amelia Sherman were asked to share a few thoughts about Sharon Mitchell.
Michaels will be attending Pace University and plans to become a professional dancer said, “…as I begin my journey as a professional dancer, I realize I have only made it this far thanks to her (Sharon Mitchell). I’ll miss the studio, its environment and the other dancers who have become family to me over the years – but what I will miss the most is learning from Sharon.”
Riddick adds, “Sharon Mitchell has always been an important figure in my life. Going to the studio after school everyday made the stress of life go away. Learning the art of dance from Sharon has provided me with knowledge that I will keep with me forever. I am so grateful I had the chance to learn from her, and that she was a part of my life. Even though I am not continuing with dance for my future, I have learned throughout the years about life from Sharon and that will stay with me forever. She will always be like a second mom to me and the people I have met through the studio have turned into family. Sharon Mitchell is an important part of the Pine Bush community and always will be. I love you forever and thank you for making me who I am!”
Sherman, who will be attending Hofstra University this fall to study dance said, “To me, Sharon has always been so much more than a dance teacher. She is a friend, a mother figure, an inspiration, and a light. She is a light in what is sometimes and extremely dark world. Sharon walks into a room and demands attention, not from selfishness, but from strength. Throughout the five years I have her, and been one of her students and company members, there was not one day she got up, walked out, and gave up. Some might say it is because the studio was her business and she would worry about losing money. I truly believe anything she has ever done in light of the Mitchell Performing Arts Center was out of unconditional love and dedication she has to bother her students and the art. I will miss the early morning and late-night rehearsals, the sore muscles after a day of hard work, helping with the younger students, and performing with some of my favorite people…I know Sharon is someone who will always have my back. She will always graciously answer the phone, set up a date to visit, and offer nothing but her wisdom, guidance, and love. For that, I am forever grateful.”
In an excerpt from a letter to his mother, Chris Anderson wrote, “You not only taught me the techniques of dance, but its importance to people. You also showed me what the human soul looks like in physical form; how it looks impossible, but still understood. You didn’t just give these things to me, but everyone that was there for the journey. They all took something and gave something. You know, I think I may know something that you may not fully realize…how much you meant to so many people and still do now…we are still going on this journey together and just to say thanks for being my teacher, my number one fan, and my mother!”
Stella Sosler, six-year old student said, “I have gone to dance since I was two and a half. Ms. Joyce, Ms. Lisa, Mr. Chris, and Ms. Sharon taught me some good moves and I’m sad I didn’t get to use them this year on stage. I hope Ms. Sharon opens again.”
Maybe Stella is also thinking of the beat, the counts, where to place her feet, her hands, her hips, how the different shoes fit or feel, the way they move and sound on the hardwood floor, and remembering the way she looked like in her costumes.
Reminiscing about high points, Mitchell shares how at one time, a performance titled, “The Show,” was put on with an Alice in Wonderland theme. This event marked a rise in the studio and company. “Our last show was also based on Alice in Wonderland,” recalled Mitchell, “and it was called, ‘The Looking Glass.’ This past year was amazing. Those kids were outstanding.”
Mitchell reflects on the possibility the two performances with similar themes were milestones for herself and the studio. Other memorable moments include many performances at the Paramount Theater in Middletown, and hometown favorite standouts include Christmas, and Halloween acts with costumed and excited dancers in the windows of the studio. Passersby always stopped to appreciate the children and the art of dance. “Those really were amazing times,” Mitchell smiles.
Figuring out what’s next is not easy for Mitchell. “I first thought of it as the end of a chapter, but it’s not just a chapter, it is closing an entire book. Albeit it might be a first volume, but it is the closing of a book and I need some time.”