Northeast Times

Along with dance, a lifetime of memories

All the right moves: Pat Kam­in­ski (cen­ter) and alumni from the Penn Academy Dance group at the April 20 re­cit­al in the North­east.

On a sun-baked Sat­urday af­ter­noon, two big park­ing lots be­hind George Wash­ing­ton High School were jam-packed, and more cars lined al­most every inch of the drive­way around the school.

In­side, about 200 par­ents, grand­par­ents, aunts, uncles and sib­lings sat in a darkened aud­it­or­i­um to watch the per­form­ances un­fold at Penn Academy’s spring dance re­cit­al. On the brightly lit stage, each part­ing of the cur­tains brought a new set of cos­tumed dan­cers who waited, frozen in place, for the mu­sic to be­gin. Once it did, girls of all sizes and shapes danced their prac­ticed routines to the mu­sic’s beat.

But this year, the 30th an­niversary of the found­ing of the dance academy, a sur­prise was wait­ing in the wings.

It is tra­di­tion for re­cent alums to re­turn to dance at the spring re­cit­al, and right be­fore in­ter­mis­sion, they took the stage and began their num­ber. But be­fore you knew it, they were joined by a dozen older alums who had come back to hon­or their be­loved teach­er, Dance Dir­ect­or Pat Kam­in­ski.

Nine­teen alums in all packed the stage, dan­cing in uni­son to up­beat tunes, in­clud­ing “Stray Cats” and Donna Sum­mer’s “What a Feel­ing!” 

Each was wear­ing a yel­low T-shirt marked with the year in which she had star­ted dance classes at Penn Academy.

“I’m so shocked,” Kam­in­ski said as she joined the young wo­men on the stage after their per­form­ance. “I haven’t seen some of these girls in years and years.”

The alums had prac­ticed their dance routines three times in secret to carry off the sur­prise. Among those who re­turned were two of “the Price girls,” Jam­ie Tritz and Stephanie Price. A third sis­ter, Melissa, lives too far away, in Texas, to come and a fourth sis­ter, Alex­is, is still en­rolled in the academy.

Jam­ie Tritz, 30, of Douglas­ville in Berks County, had the num­ber 88 on her T-shirt be­cause, as she ex­plained it, she star­ted classes in 1988.

“I loved it so much,” she said of her time at the academy. 

“I nev­er stopped be­ing in­volved,” said an­oth­er alum, Melissa Mul­hern, 32, of Academy Gar­dens. “I have a daugh­ter who is 4, and she dances.”

“I loved com­ing to dance prac­tice. [Pat] made it fun. I loved be­ing on stage. My fam­ily would come. My sis­ter and I still watch the home videos of us dan­cing as little girls.”

Asked why she came back for this re­cit­al on April 20, Erica Zanczuk, 28, of Mor­rell Park, re­spon­ded with two words. “For Pat.”

Zanczuk said Kam­in­ski “was a big in­spir­a­tion to me and a lot of people I grew up with. It was a big thing grow­ing up.”

Zanczuk was the only girl in her fam­ily of four chil­dren, and she be­came close to the oth­er girls from St. Domin­ic’s Ele­ment­ary School who were also in her dance classes.

“We went to school to­geth­er, came here to­geth­er, we be­came sis­ters,” she said.

After the in­ter­mis­sion, the cur­rent seni­or class showed a video com­pil­a­tion of their dance re­cit­als. The elec­tron­ic scrap­book showed the girls as they grew from tiny dan­cers through awk­ward middle school years to pol­ished young wo­men all dressed up for their gradu­ation pic­tures.

“We be­came more than just dan­cers, we be­came a fam­ily,” the nar­rat­or said.

Kam­in­ski, who watched the video from a front-row seat in the aud­it­or­i­um, got a lump in her throat.

“I hope I’ve had some good im­pact,” she said. “A lot of these girls are in each oth­ers’ wed­dings. They’ve stayed friends all through the years.”

Her daugh­ter, Pamela Kel­ble, of Academy Gar­dens, no­ticed the faint red marks trail­ing down the length of her moth­er’s right arm, and asked what that was. 

“The girls were kiss­ing me,” Kam­in­ski said, point­ing to the lip­stick re­mind­ers her dan­cers had left be­hind.

NO DRILL SER­GEANT

Earli­er, in an in­ter­view in her Academy Gar­dens home, Kam­in­ski was quick to point out she’s just the op­pos­ite of a hard-nosed, drill-ser­geant type teach­er when it comes to dance.

“I’m noth­ing like Abby,” Kam­in­ski said with a laugh, re­fer­ring to Abby Lee Miller, the de­mand­ing and short-tempered in­struct­or on Life­time’s pop­u­lar TV show, “Dance Moms.” 

In­stead, Kam­in­ski said she seeks to make each dan­cer her best with en­cour­age­ment and per­son­al at­ten­tion.

Kam­in­ski has been the dir­ect­or of Penn Academy Dance since its in­cep­tion in 1983, when she star­ted the dance group out of a club­house at the Penn Academy Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation, at Academy and Wil­lits roads.

Through word of mouth, Kam­in­ski said more dan­cers joined each year. A former dan­cer her­self, she made the ef­fort to start a dance group, she said, simply be­cause she “al­ways loved it.”

“It’s time con­sum­ing,” Kam­in­ski said of teach­ing her dan­cers in ad­di­tion to her full-time job as an agent at Po­lo­nia Bank. “You have to like it.”

It’s clear she does. She choked up with pride when she talked about mem­or­able dan­cers from her three dec­ades of teach­ing.

“I love it, I love the kids,” she said. “I am so proud of them. They look like Broad­way dan­cers,” she said.

Their suc­cess is not without chal­lenges, she said. Penn Academy ac­cepts girls of all shapes, sizes and levels of skill.

“All of our stu­dents are not Rock­ettes, but we try to fig­ure out a way to get each girl in­volved and make her get bet­ter,” Kam­in­ski said. 

Es­pe­cially in dance and bal­let, where phys­ic­al thin­ness is of­ten revered, Kam­in­ski said Penn Academy em­braces girls for who they are.

“It really gives them con­fid­ence and brings them out of their shell,” she said. “The girls sup­port one an­oth­er.” 

Penn Academy ac­cepts girls from 3 to 18 years old, and the cost is $100 for the sea­son, which runs from Septem­ber to April. When the girls gradu­ate from the academy, Kam­in­ski said, it’s al­ways heart- wrench­ing, be­cause both she and the girls be­come very at­tached to the pro­gram and to one an­oth­er.

As she looked ahead to the re­cit­al, she pre­dicted “this year’s go­ing to be emo­tion­al, be­cause the class that’s leav­ing is mine.”  The girls had been un­der her tu­tel­age from when they were 3 or 4 years old —  the “little di­vas,” she called them. ••

Reach Lil­lian Swan­son at 215-354-3030 or lswan­son@bsmphilly.com or Mi­kala Jam­is­on at 215-354-3113 or mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com

You can reach and at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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