By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Lola Mae Coates was known for always telling her dance students: “Hold your pretty heads high and be proud of yourself.”
Even though Coates retired from Steeple Arts in 2002, passing the reigns as director on to her daughter, Deanny Coates Hardy, today the studio still teaches that same self-confidence to a fourth generation of students.
“We’ve always said we love children through dance,” Hardy said.
All of the current Steeple Arts faculty took dance from the studio while growing up.
“We teach so much more than ballet,” said Bee Lewis, who has been teaching at Steeple Arts for about 20 years. “We teach manners, we teach classroom skills, we teach them how to be kind to each other.”
“They are not just dance students,” said 35-year dance teacher Annette Troxell.
“We care about them and their families, and most importantly we want them to love dance. Mrs. Coates really nurtured my love of dance and music, and I want to pass that on to students.”
Steeple Arts stresses classical training in ballet, jazz and tap for all ages. In addition to these traditional classes for children, they offer hip-hop and dance team training for girls and Zumba and ladies’ ballet for women.
Many dancers start at Steeple Arts at age two and dance through the end of high school, up to 16 years in all, but each dancer is just as important to the instructors if she is only there one or two years—as it has been since Hardy’s grandmother opened the studio in 1935.
Originally located above the old Browdy’s in Mountain Brook Village, the Lola Mae Jones School of Dance moved to the old red Crestline United Methodist Building in 1958 and changed its name to Steeple Arts.
Hardy said Steeple Arts tries to stay current with what’s popular by teaching classes like hip-hop and dance team, but they also still hang onto the tradition of what dance is all about.
“We teach our dancers grace, poise, discipline, respect and responsibility,” she said.
Also in her mother’s tradition, Hardy teaches sixth grade ballroom dancing classes each fall. Many parents who took the class over the past 50 years now see the classes as a necessary rite of passage for their children to learn among other things the Foxtrot, Waltz and Swing.
“It’s so fun to watch the children through the classes,” Hardy said. “At the beginning of the session, they are so shy, and they become more confident and comfortable with each other. It’s a huge transformation.”
Hardy describes Steeple Arts as being like a family. Younger dancers look up to the older ones who lead them on stage in recitals and who perform for them at the studio’s annual holiday party. They can’t wait to wear black leotards instead of the blue that the younger classes wear, to dance at the party and to perform a solo as a senior in the recital.
After more than 75 years, Steeple Arts’ focus is still on this love of dance.
“I feel Steeple Arts has touched the lives of so many people over the years and continues to do so today,” Hardy said.
36 Church Street