“The first week, we were so stunned by the amount of people who came in the door. We immediately realized we would grow quickly,” says studio manager Kathryn Ebert, an Evanston resident and one of the four visionaries behind Foster Dance Studio.
Despite being taken aback by the enthusiastic reaction from the community, the energetic foursome – Ronn Stewart, Ms. Ebert, Sally Turner and Sarah Goldstone – were ready for just about anything.
The studio offers a flexible schedule of dance instruction in ballet, jazz, modern, tap and contemporary for children and adults by a host of instructors with impressive backgrounds. Its uniqueness however, stems from the studio’s artistic director, Mr. Stewart, and his signature MoPeD (“More People Dancing”) technique, a cutting-edge approach to movement and body awareness combining dance, improvisation and imagery.
Trained as a young boy by Susan Quinn and Michael Williams of Gus Giordano Jazz School in Pensacola, Fla., Mr. Stewart moved to Chicago at the age of 18 to dance with the Evanston-based Gus Giordano Company during its heyday. A few years later, he headed to Santa Fe to start his own non-profit dance school. After a successful 10-year run in New Mexico, where he honed his skills and learned “more than I could ever have imagined,” Mr. Stewart says it was time to move on to a city where he could reach more people and make a bigger impact.
He returned to Chicago.
It was in March of this year that he met Sally Turner, a stay-at-home mom for the past 17 years who spent a lot of those years driving her daughter to and from dance classes and watching recitals. A childhood dancer herself, Ms. Turner decided to take a jazz class taught by Mr. Stewart. Before long her childhood passion was reignited.
“Ronn was such an amazing teacher and so respectful of all his students at various levels,” says Ms. Turner. “I just had this thought and I felt there was a need, and in a brave moment I walked right up to him and asked, ‘Would you ever consider opening a dance studio?’”
Just six months later, with the help of Ms. Ebert and Ms. Goldstone, a colleague of Mr. Stewart’s who had trained at Julliard, Foster Dance Studio was opened.
The brightly lit 3,000-square-foot space on Foster Street is next to the El stop, to accommodate teachers and students who live in Chicago, while ample street parking and a lot across the street offer additional convenience to motorists. The space will also be home to Mr. Stewart’s professional dance company.
“What we do is different,” says Ms. Turner. “There are a lot of really good dance schools in Chicago and on the North Shore, but in my mind they are apples and we are an orange.”
What makes Foster Dance different is twofold, says Ms. Turner.
“We have a professional dance presence here that other studios don’t have, and we have a two-track program,” she says.
The first track is geared toward the serious student who is considering making a career out of dance, whereas the second track is intended for kids or adults who have other activities in their lives but would like to dance for enjoyment.
“This two-track program was really important to all of us,” says Ms. Turner. “We felt strongly that kids, especially, should have the opportunity to take part in dance at any age and at any level and eliminate the pressure and intensity that is so prevalent at dance schools these days.”
They have also eliminated the choreographed recital component to their classes, allowing instructors to “focus more time on technique and create a strong foundation.”
“We are really excited about creating something important and special here,” says Mr. Stewart. “We are so proud of our amazing instructors and of our vision. Our hope is to offer a nurturing and safe environment where all people can explore the unique art form of dance.”