Celebrating 30 years of dance in Philly

Pat Kam­in­ski (cen­ter) and alumni from the Penn Academy Dance group at the April 20 re­cit­al in the North­east. STAR FILE PHOTO

Stu­dents past and present thanked Penn Academy dance teach­er Pat Kam­in­ski for three dec­ades of teach­ing them how to move at a re­cent ce­re­mony.

Even through the words of a six-year-old, it’s clear Pat Kam­in­ski is a fant­ast­ic dance teach­er.

Geor­gia Polin, 6, who lives with her par­ents Lance and Deana Polin on East Ser­geant Street, said Kam­in­ski is great at mak­ing her feel happy dur­ing dance class.

“She makes me have fun in class. I al­ways felt happy,” Geor­gia said, adding that she loves be­ing on stage. “I like see­ing my mom in the audi­ence when I’m on stage.”

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 in North­east Phil­adelphia.

Over the years, stu­dents from all over Phil­adelphia have danced for Penn Academy, in­clud­ing Polin and oth­er girls from the River Wards, Kam­in­ski said.

And earli­er in April, three dec­ades of stu­dents gave her a big thank-you.

On the morn­ing of Sat­urday, April 20, Penn Academy’s spring dance re­cit­al had brought about 200 par­ents, grand­par­ents, aunts, uncles and sib­lings to the darkened school aud­it­or­i­um.

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.

Then, right be­fore in­ter­mis­sion, the dance academy alumni pulled off their sur­prise. It is com­mon for re­cent alums to re­turn to dance at the spring re­cit­al, and 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.

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

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

“I’m so shocked,” Kam­in­ski said as she joined the young wo­men on 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, and a fourth sis­ter, Alex­is, is still en­rolled in the academy.

Kam­in­ski said she seeks to make each dan­cer her best with en­cour­age­ment and per­son­al at­ten­tion. 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 in the liv­ing room of her home when talk­ing 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.

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

“This year is go­ing to be emo­tion­al [at the end-of-sea­son re­cit­al], be­cause the class that’s leav­ing is mine,” Kam­in­ski said. The gradu­at­ing class of girls has been un­der Kam­in­ski’s tu­tel­age from when they were 3 or 4 years old — “little di­vas,” Kam­in­ski calls them.

After the in­ter­mis­sion at the re­cit­al, the cur­rent seni­or class showed a video com­pil­a­tion of their dance re­cit­als down through the years.

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

Kam­in­ski watched the video from a front-row seat in the aud­it­or­i­um, and 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,” Pat said, point­ing to the lip­stick re­mind­ers her dan­cers had left be­hind. ••

Lil­lian Swan­son con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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