BALLET SCHOOL IS NO WALTZ TO RICHES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Pamela Lauer may not be making a million teaching children ballet, but she gets a feeling that makes her feel like a million when students get excited learning how to dance.

"The 4-year-olds all think they're going to be ballerinas. Their eyes are huge, and they try so hard. They're all so enthusiastic. That's what makes you want to do this," Lauer says.

The fun of taking part in that enthusiasm is one of the main reasons Lauer has stayed with teaching ballet for 10 years. She also getsto dance herself.

Fresh from landing a degree in dance education,Lauer started a ballet studio a decade ago in a rented Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Joppa with just six students.

Today, she instructs more than 120 dancers in her own studio, the County Ballet DanceStudio, located on Old Emmorton Road in Bel Air.

And she says she's got big plans for her studio's 10th anniversary next spring. Thoseplans include staging a full-length classical ballet performance.

The 38-year old Baltimore native hasn't exactly danced through the last decade.

Staying on her feet financially in the ballet businesshas been tough, she says. A self-described "idealist," Lauer says she has stubbornly kept her studio focused on classical ballet education even though offering other dance programs might have had more commercial appeal.

"Unfortunately, I'll never be wealthy," says Lauer, who lives and works in the same building, sharing two rooms with her 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Lauer says she insists that all her students learn the basics of ballet before performing.

"Ballet is like Latin. Ballet is the main form; all other dance forms come from ballet," she says.

Tuition at the County Ballet Dance Studio starts at $65 for one weekly 45-minute class for 18 weeks. Lauer sticks to an 18-week session to ensure that students get a good grounding inballet techniques.

After studying ballet for three to four years and passing an audition, she allows her students to perform in her non-profit dance troupe, the Part Two Dance Company, to gain more experience. The company performs in area nursing homes and at children's festivals.

Phillip Carman, artistic director of the Maryland BalletSchool and Company is familiar with Lauer's studio. He says, "The more oriented toward the art form you are, the less commercially successful you're going to be. She's running a very serious school. If she's managed to keep it together for 10 years that's quite an accomplishment."

Lauer says she bought her studio with a $5,000 down payment. She then borrowed $7,000 for renovations and was able to open the studio in October 1982. This year marks the first time that all the studio's ballet, jazz, modern, and tap dance classes -- 36 in all -- will be filled with the maximum of eight students, she says.

Lauer says the studio and dancing are such an important part of her life that she still finds herself putting a large chunk of her profits into improving the studio.

Last year, she netted $23,000 from tuition. But after deducting the costs of running her business, she says, her profit was about $10,000.

To bring in extra income, Lauer works as a bartender at the Maryland Golf and Country Club in Bel Air and teaches dance at Harford Community College.

"Most people who are idealistic don't draw full salaries from their studio," explains Michelle White, who closed her own 12-year-old Churchville dance studio, the Harford Ballet Studio, in June.

This fall she joined Lauer's studioas an instructor. She dissolved her business, she says, "because of economics. It just grinds you down. You're working for very little when you have a (classical ballet) studio."

White is a former ballerina and principal dancer with Baltimore's Maryland Ballet and the National Ballet of Iran.

Roger Wade of Baltimore also will teach at the County Ballet Dance Studio this year. He is a former member of theNational Ballet in Washington and guest artist with dance companies from Ireland to Germany. Wade has taught at Essex Community College and works as a professional dancer.

Linda Terry of Jarrettsville who has studied dance at Towson State University and Harford Community College, works as a part-time teacher at Lauer's studio.

Lauer says she's not fazed by any competition posed by what are, in her view, commercial dance schools.

She says she wants to attract only thosestudents who are serious about their ballet training. That back-to-basics approach keeps customers coming. Cindy Sharretts, a Monkton resident, for example, says she enrolled her two children in Lauer's school after spotting a newspaper ad for the studio that touted ballet as "more than fancy costumes."

"If they were going to learn, I wanted them to learn properly, rather than lackadaisically, which is whatI see in some places," Sharretts says.

Lauer also has had successattracting students to her studio and at classes she teaches at Harford Community College with a program she developed, Mom and Me at 3.

Lauer has a policy of not allowing children in pre-ballet classes until they are about 5 years old.

"But so many mothers call when their kids are 3," she says. So she remedied the problem by designing an exercise and dance program for teams of parents and young children.

Lauer teaches what is known as the Vaganova technique of ballet,a system for ballet education used in Russia.

Lauer set aside herdream of becoming a ballerina in her early 20s, while dancing in thechorus of the Maryland Ballet in Baltimore. Though she had danced since childhood and studied and performed ballet in New York and Europe, Lauer came to realize she didn't have the necessary physique to be a professional ballerina.

"I'm not the physical type. I've never had long legs. I've never been flat-chested," she says. Lauer quit thecompany and worked five years as a graphic artist at the Baltimore News American.

Later she earned a dance education degree from the School of the Hartford Ballet in Connecticut and in 1980 she returned to her parents' home in White Marsh. She began teaching dance at the rented VFW hall.

Two years later she scraped together the money for the down payment on her studio -- money she had earned teaching ballet privately and at HCC.

The first year running her own studio was rough, she recalls. "It did not go well," says Lauer, who taught about nine students in the studio's opening year.

But over the years, enrollment has risen steadily.

And after 10 years in business, Lauer says she's ready to celebrate. She plans to raise the money to cover next month's $5,000 anniversary children's ballet with Nov. 15 fund-raiser dinner-dance event at the Maryland Golf and Country Club.

The years of hard work, Lauer says, have paid off in rewards that transcend the monetary.

Case in point: Lauer says a teacher once told her that when she asked a class to write the name of a person whohad had an critical influence on her life, one of Lauer's former students wrote down her name.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
39°