As dance students from Stars Studio in North Laurel rehearsed for their annual recital May 31 at Laurel High School, a mob began congregating in the auditorium lobby.
Unknown to Veronica Mack, 80 — who was working behind closed doors on her final dance recital as a teacher at Stars — a crowd of around 50 former students showed up to honor their beloved "Miss Ronnie" with a flash dance.
Sarah Mackland, 25, drove in from Reston because "Miss Ronnie inspired us to love movement and music for a lifetime."
Nicole Schaffner, 29, a Stars teacher who's appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance," trained at at La Maison de la Danse, which Mack owned prior to teaching at Stars, from the age of 3.
"She's truly left a legacy; Miss Ronnie has touched hundreds of dancers' lives," Schaffner said.
"Miss Ronnie is the sweetest, toughest teacher you'll ever meet," said Fulton resident Evan Kittrell, 21, who studied and taught at Stars prior to starting college at Kent State University.
Krista Linzey, 40, said she and her sister took classes at La Maison de la Danse in the early 1980s and danced with its Performing Company.
"[Ronnie] would always tell us, 'If your hair piece falls off, or part of your costume does, or you miss a step; just keep dancing with a smile on your face' — a great motto to live by," she said.
Linzey chose Stars Studio for her daughter Lily, 9, six years ago, she said, because she knew the studio's La Maison heritage.
"There will never be another Miss Ronnie," said Tammy Morris, an out-of-state La Maison dance mom who couldn't attend but has appreciated Mack for decades. "She loves her students from the first moment and no one sets the bar so high."
The short, 3-4 minute musical theater flash mob routine — created by Mack's daughter Dawn Macey-Boyette and accompanied by "Thank You Very Much" from the "Scrooge" soundtrack — had been taught ahead of time to 75 Stars students by Macey-Boyette and Schaffner.
They, in turn, had been asked to spread it in secrecy to their friends.
Macey-Boyette quickly versed the newcomers in the lobby and at 6:30 p.m., the mob stormed the auditorium in a burst of musical love to join Stars students in a tribute performance onstage.
Mack appeared floored.
"I was shocked beyond description," she said, between tears, smiles and hugs in the lobby afterward. "When I saw my grandchildren, I thought, 'Oh, my word!' It was so exciting."
Stars owner Mollerick said she drew inspiration for the recital's theme, "A Night of Legends," from Mack, who began teaching at Stars Studio when it opened in 2008.
In the program, Mack wrote that teaching children had "quenched a 77-year passion for dance and performance that began when a doctor prescribed dance lessons to cure my 3-year-old pigeon toes."
This seventh annual Stars recital — showcasing hundreds of dancers ranging from tots to young adults performing ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, pointe, poms, contemporary and hip hop — was the last for "Miss Ronnie" as a teacher.
Mollerick said it was the end of an era.
"She is not only a legend at Stars Studio, but in the dance world," Mollerick wrote in an email. "Her work ethic and absolute love of teaching and creating has been an inspiration, not only to me, but to everyone she meets."
Mack studied tap, ballet, pointe, jazz, acrobatics, baton and Hawaiian beginning as a tot in a tutu. As a child she trained at the Helen Nickolson School of Dance, appearing regularly on "Hoppity-Skippity" on WTTC Channel 5, and later in New York City.
An assistant teacher by age 13, Mack appeared weekly on Sylvia Devey's "Children's Talent Show" on TV Channel 4 and danced solo on "Paul Whiteman's TV Teen Club" show.
Her career as a professional dancer led Mack to perform in the local area and also in New York, Canada, Bermuda and Portugal. As a full-time teacher, she trained pros such as Whitney Wiggins, a current Brooklynette who Macey-Boyette said has toured with big names like Beyoncé.
In 1963, Mack and her husband, Jerry, now deceased, settled in Maryland City where she still lives. In 1967, she opened La Maison de la Danse in the basement of her home, and after renting spaces in churches and schools, Mack settled into her own studio in the Brockbridge Shopping Center in 1984.
Mollerick's daughters — Stars instructors Hannah, Sarah and Alanah Mollerick — studied with Mack and Macey-Boyette at La Maison, where a number of Stars instructors received dance training.
Mollerick said she "expanded on the La Maison template" when she opened Stars Studio almost a decade ago.
Macey-Boyette said she considers her mother's greatest legacy to be the love for the art that she shared with any child who wanted to dance, regardless of their ability.
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"For my mother, it was always about the kids, the education and the love of dance," she said.