Magazine article Dance Teacher

Passing the Torch

Magazine article Dance Teacher

Passing the Torch

Article excerpt

A family-run studio finds its footing after the founder's death.

Dancers up against a Larkin Dance Studio student at a competition know they have to up their game. The school pumps out stunning performers as if it were a dance factory. And their bragging rights go beyond the competitive-dance community, with alumni on Broadway, in television and film, and at top collegiate dance programs around the country.

But anyone who looks past the shiny trophies will find a family-run studio with an old-fashioned approach. The Larkins have integrated this midwestern region's values into their business, faculty, and students. And it has helped them carry the business forward after the loss of founder Shirley Larkin, who died last year at 77.

Now, two of Larkin's six daughters, Molly LarkinSymanietz and Michele Larkin-Wagner, have taken over. "We figured she was going to be here forever," says Symanietz. "We were in such denial."

Building a Booming Business

Larkin started teaching in 1950 in the basement of her father's restaurant, in a small suburb just northeast of Minneapolis/St. Paul. When she married and moved into a house, the business moved there, too. Larkin's six children literally grew up in a dance studio. "It was crazy," says Wagner. "She'd run upstairs during classes and feed us dinner quick and run back down. How she did it, I have no clue."

When the business outgrew their home, Larkin moved the family to nearby Maplewood and opened the studio in a 15,000-square-foot space in a strip mall. It offered recreational and adult classes, its competitive track quickly became its selling point, and soon, Larkin dancers became a staple on top- 10 awards lists at competitions around the country.

Meanwhile, Symanietz and Wagner were unknowingly prepping for the future, spending every evening dancing at the studio. It was a natural transition when they graduated high school and began choreographing and teaching there. …

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