Teacher celebrates 4 decades of dance in Medina

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Dancecenter owner Stephanie Szklany goes through a routine with her 3- to 6-year-olds at her studio at 443 Main St., Medina. From left rear are Miracle Allis, Mariana Roman, Annabelle Kruzynski, Charlee Barraclough, Carmen Sutch and Mabel Schiffer. Mabel 3, is the youngest in the class.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 10 April 2023 at 8:30 am

MEDINA – Dancing has been in Stephanie Szklany’s blood since she was a teenager.

In fact, she loved it so much she went to college to study dance, so she could teach it to others, and this spring she will celebrate 40 years of running The Dancenter at 443 Main St.

Szklany’s sister Joanna Pasceri of Lockport calls The Dancenter “a fixture in the historic village of Medina.” She said what makes her sister’s story even more meaningful is surviving the challenging economic times, only worsened by the Covid pandemic.

“Her longevity has brought the studio full circle with many of her former students now enrolling their children or grandchildren in dance lessons,” Pasceri said.

Szklany was born and raised in Lockport, graduating in 1976 from Lockport Senior High School. At 16, she started taking dance lessons from Rolann Crowe in Lockport, and when she had to make a decision about her career, dance was all she knew, she said. By then she was taking dance from Maria Battaglia at the American Academy of Ballet in Buffalo. In high school, she studied ballet, tap and jazz, but when she went to Buffalo, she just focused on ballet.

“I asked Maria if there were any colleges that focused on dance,” Szklany said. “She told me about York University in Toronto. I auditioned and applied and got in.”

Her passion would have been to dance professionally, but to do that she said you have to start a lot younger than she did.

Part of her college curriculum was teaching small groups and she really enjoyed it, she said.

“The only struggle in my years was during Covid,” Szklany said. “That nearly killed us. When we were able to start back up after nearly six months, I had to install two $500 air filters and wash the bars continuously, and we all had to wear masks. It was a real challenge how to keep kids six feet apart.”

She said a lot of parents didn’t want their children that close and most didn’t send their children back. In her heyday, Szklany said her students numbered more than 200. Her numbers are now 140, and dancers are slowly coming back.

Szklany teaches ballet, pointe, jazz, tap and creative movement. She accepts students starting at 2 ½, as long as they are potty-trained. And she runs classes with adults.

(Left) Jo Anne Benthin, left, assistant instructor, and Stephanie Szklany, owner, compare notes at the end of a class. Benthin has been with The Dancenter for more than 20 years. (Right) Dancenter owner Stephanie Szklany goes through a routine with Carmen Sutch during a recent class. Each of the young dancers gets one-on-one instruction.

Opening a studio in Medina just evolved.

“After college, my dad wanted me to open my own studio right away, but I wanted to wait,” she said. “I went to work teaching ballet for Sylvia McDonald for a year at School of the Dance, but I wasn’t making any money. I didn’t want to compete with her, so I found this space in Medina. When I got here, I discovered there was already a dance studio here, but she moved away a year later.”

Two sisters who dance in the 3- to 6-year-old class are Mabel Schiffer, 3, and Hattie, 6, daughters of Ben and Rebecca Schiffer of Medina. Mabel started last year when she was not yet 3, and has no trouble learning the routines.

“The girls like to dance and play the songs at home,” Rebecca said.

Mariana Roman, 5, also loves to dance, and likes jazz and tap, said her stepmother Bekah Roman, who brings her to dance class. She is a daughter of Mark Roman and Brianna Wheeler.

One of Szklany’s students was Brandon Johnson, who now runs his own dance studio. Another student, Lisa Vaughn, also opened her own studio, and other students have gone on to dance in the Nutcracker.

Jo Anne Benthin has been her assistant for more than 20 years. She studied in Medina with Lori Balcerzak when she was young. Neither of the ladies have any plans to give up doing what they love any time soon.

On May 20, Szklany will have a recital for her students at 1 and 7 p.m. at Medina High School, followed by a big celebration of her anniversary the next day at Sacred Heart Club on North Gravel Road.

Current students and anyone with a ticket to the recital will be admitted free of charge to her celebration.