Kyla Smith, Tori Arthur, Leah Mulcahy, and Madelyn Arthur have been receiving instruction for years at the Gateway Studio located in Ringgold, GA. The girls spend every Tuesday and Thursday perfecting dance moves and assisting in the studio.
Brown also runs a satellite studio in Cleveland for local residents who cannot keep their feet still.
“I am always tapping my feet in class at school,” Smith said. “The teacher has to tell me to stop.”
Their peers are impressed by all the girls can do. Madelyn has been dancing for seven years and is often asked to perform tricks in the schoolyard.
“They always ask me to do the flips that I performed in the talent show. So I do,” she said.
Tori Arthur and Smith favor each other in skill and height. For almost five years they have been dance partners and have performed a number of clogging numbers. Tori has been dancing for nine years and Smith has been dancing for 10.
“The two of them together is amazing,” said Brown. “I am so proud of them. This last year they won a lot of Over Alls in competitions.”
“I dance because it is a way to express myself,” Tori said. “It is really fun.”
Mulcahy received instruction at Brown’s Academy and is now an instructor at the Gateway Studio. Brown calls instructors like Mulcahy ‘homegrown.’
“Homegrown means that the instructors learned to dance at one of our studios,” Brown said.
Mulcahy admitted to performing little routines, with fellow dancers, while still in high school. The impromptu steps were well-received by the students, she said.
“At one of my friend’s prom we did a dance routine which made everybody stop and watch us,” Mulcahy said.
The girls had to call on their mothers when asked why they initially attended Brown’s studio.
“I don’t know,” Smith admitted. “I was like 3 when I started!”
Smith’s mother shared that it was the variety of dances offered that caught her attention. Today Smith and sisters Tori and Madelyn are all in the Academy’s dance troupe.
Mulcahy explained what being in a dance troupe entails.
“Every spring and fall there are three performances at the mall in addition to three regional competitions and nationals. There are also always things in between” she said.
This past summer the four dancers participated in Gatlinburg’s “Tunes and Tales.”
“We have to audition for the job every year,” Brown said. “I was the storyteller this past summer and the girls were part of the ‘Back Porch Cloggers.’”
Every night the dancers performed 10, 15-minute sets. Audience numbers fluctuated anywhere from 10 to 70 people. Brown says the girls were kept busy.
“After the performances the dancers go into the crowd for meet and greet. They have had their pictures made a hundred times. Some of the little girls in the audience wear tap shoes and gingham dresses to be like the dancers,” she said.
Madelyn describes the first time performing as “scary.” Tori expanded on her feelings, saying, “Initially you are scared that you are going to mess up while you are out there. Then when you get close to the end of the routine you get happy because you did it and it was so much fun.”
Mulcahy still finds the experience thrilling after 13 years of dancing.
“There is a part of you that is kind of nervous but most of you is so excited to show everybody what you can do,” she said.
“Once you go out there it feels like there are a thousand people watching,” Smith explained. “Once you get off stage you realize how much fun you had and you really want to do it again.”
A part of the show involved performing the chicken dance with the audience, shared Smith.
“There is a guy named Ted that comes to our shows every summer,” said Mulcahy. “We gave him an airbrushed hat that says, ‘Back Porch Cloggers #1 Fan.’ It is always interesting to see the number of people we have impacted there.”
Brown believes the experience is a good life learning lesson.
“They develop a great work ethic and discipline — even if they only go down for a week. They also learn how to live together. So many kids that go off to college never know what it is like to live with another person [besides family]. These girls do.”
The dance troupe has been in a number of other events that include the televised opening number of Gatlinburg’s Christmas Parade; the International Youth Arts Festival in Gang Nung, South Korea; shows at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Centennial Theater, and a dance program in Alnwick, England.
“In addition to their performances, I like to have the dancers give back to the community,” Brown said. “They need to see that they are fortunate and they need to give back.”
Sometimes the dance troupe will perform at an assisted living facility. Brown also enjoys getting the dancers involved with the horse show for the Special Olympics
“It is good for them to do community service projects that are not for their glory, so to speak,” she said.
In the spring, the dancers were involved with two tornado relief projects, Brown said. The first raised money for seniors who wanted to attend prom but had lost everything. The second was in cooperation with Bradley Square Mall to raise money for necessities.
While the dance troupe practices twice a week, there are normal classes offered for students who wish to learn at a more relaxed pace.
“We do not make the children sign any contracts,” Brown said. “If a child attends a dance class and does not like it, then we do not make them pay. We want them to enjoy what they are doing.”
The most popular classes offered are Zumba, jazz, and hip-hop. Brown described the Zumba classes as having a fun atmosphere where everyone is usually smiling.
“I would love to see all children who want to dance be able to participate. Our motto is, ‘God provides the potential and the Academy helps develop it,” Brown said.
Recently the dance troupe partnered with the world-renowned Rockettes at Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga to raise money for the Make A Wish Foundation. For information on future performances or if you have any questions, visit the Academy’s website at gbacademy.com.