Walking into Studio One School Of Dance is like walking into a tightly-harnessed ball of energy.
The silver sound of clogging shoes echoes in the high-ceilinged rooms beneath the voices of instructors, growing louder and louder as the dancers spin around one another in a routine that looks like it was years in the making. For some of these students, that’s exactly what it has been, even though most of them aren’t yet old enough to drive.
“Some of these dancers have been with us for years,” co-owner Kelly Fithen said. “It is quite indescribable how close we have become with some of them, which truly makes this whole experience worthwhile. Not only have we been able to watch so many of them grow as dancers, but grow into young adults, get engaged, get married and even have their own children. We wouldn’t trade any of these experiences.”
The studio, located at 840 Bypass Road, is a family business, with Kelly and her sister, Regina Culton, running daily operations.
The duo started clogging for fun as kids, following in their parents’ footsteps. They found they were talented enough to eventually move on to competitions, which allowed them to travel and share experiences they ordinarily might have never had the chance to find.
“What started out as a fun hobby escalated and has became a part of who we are today,” Kelly said. “Years ago, we could have never dreamed how this would all unfold.”
After local dance performances led to people asking Kelly and Regina to teach their children or grandchildren how to clog, the sisters knew they wanted to open their own studio. Then, it was merely a matter of garnering clients.
According to Kelly, the studio is much more than a job. The dancers and instructors are like a big family.
Together, they have won national championships, traveled the country and appeared on TV shows like “Hee Haw,” “America’s Got Talent” (the group that appeared included Kelly’s husband, Kenneth, who teaches adult classes at the studio) and “Bizarre Foods America.”
You don’t need to watch the dancers perform to know they are insanely talented. At first step into the studio, the enormity of what these performers have accomplished is evident. Trophies, awards and plaques take up wall space in every room, from the office to the mirror-lined practice areas, and those are just the ones Kelly and Regina haven’t given away.
Because most competitions only hand out one physical trophy per team, the sisters wait until they have accumulated 10 or 12 and then hand them out to each member so everyone has something to take home.
Kelly and Regina said they like to choose five competitions for their teams throughout the year, with nationals being the ultimate goal. Held at the beginning of each year in Knoxville, nationals qualification is the highest honor for cloggers, something one dancer might work for decades to achieve, Kelly said. And Studio One dancers hold more than a dozen titles, including three back-to-back national championships.
When the sisters talk about their “family,” you can hear the pride in their voices stemming from these accomplishments as well as the joy that has come from years of doing what they love and making a career out of it.
“We really don’t view the studio as a business,” Regina said. “It has never been that for us. Instead, it has been a place to expand our horizons as well as share our passion. It truly is a family.”
Although competitions and rehearsals keep them busy, the sisters like to participate in local events, as well, with dancers of all ages performing at various events, including the annual Christmas parade.
With several age groups in the mix — the studio takes on dancers as young as three — it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page, especially when rehearsals, such as those for the parade, involve several teams working together.
“It’s organized chaos,” Regina said with a laugh.
Organizing that chaos is made possible by the team the sisters have put in place at Studio One — many of whom began their time at the studio as young cloggers themselves under Kelly and Regina’s guidance.
Along with Kenneth, there are Hannah Abner, who teaches the three- to six-year-olds; Lyric Campbell, Emily Rice and Kaylee Thomas, who teach recreational group classes and competition private classes; and Caitlyn Miller, Alyson Hill and Keegan Hatton, the studio’s assistant directors, who teach all of the competition teams as well as private and duo classes.
“Studio One definitely exhibits a team effort when it comes to our staff,” Regina said. “We all collaborate and work together to provide the best experiences for our dancers.”
Watching the teams rehearse, the love and passion for the art is overwhelming. Laughing and cutting up with the instructors one minute and intently focused on their moves the next, Studio One dancers are evidently driven, yet nothing about the routine feels forced.
Moving effortlessly across the floor in unison, the team looks just as at home performing to a popular tune with a heavy beat as they do dancing to a song from a beloved musical.
To an outsider, it looks like quite a workout, but it also looks like fun. Legs kicking in perfect rhythm with one another, the teams embody pure, vibrant youth and echo the sisters’ sentiment of a happy family at the same time.
“Through the studio, we have grown closer as sisters and have created a family that we would have never formed without clogging,” Kelly said. “Studio One has opened so many doors for us and our dancers and, for that, we are forever grateful.
“While the dance has been the center that has brought us all together, the friendships and experiences are far more memorable than any trophy or performance.” §