Bentley said she found her purpose in teaching the fine art of dancing some 20 years ago and is enjoying its variety of styles every step along the way. Born in Cleveland but raised in McDonald, Bentley said she started dancing at the age of 8 under the direction of dance instructor Paula Duff.
“I could not get enough,” said Bentley, who described herself as a “big tomboy” who played outside with her brothers until one special day.
“I remember being at school and seeing these two girls — Rachel and Amy — all dressed up in their outfits and going to dance class. I said, ‘Where are y’all going?’ They said, ‘We’re going to tap class.’ I remember coming home and saying, ‘I want to take dance!’ Paula Duff went to our church so my mom talked to her and I started right away.”
Bentley confessed when she first started dancing she was “very, very bashful” and when she danced she loved it because “I didn’t have to speak out loud.”
“I was that dancer who could express myself without being put on the spot. I could hide in that back row — get in the middle of that class — and not be the center of attention,” she admits. “So growing up and seeing these little kids being bashful — I know what they feel. I was that bashful kid. But eventually my confidence grew.”
Between the ages of 14 to 18 Duff scheduled the insatiable young dancer to dancing workshops once her studio closed for the summer. Bentley participated in annual workshops with Gus Giordano Jazz Dance of Chicago at the University of Vanderbelt in Nashville. There she took master classes in the Giordano technique, style and repertoire. She even attended summer classes with Ballet Tennessee.
“I would also take classes in Atlanta,” Bentley said. “I just could not get enough. I could not get enough.”
Bentley also studied under Carolyn Clark, Amy Card-Lillios, Kelley Bender and Heidi Lambert. By the age of 14, Bentley had become such a talented and studious pupil that she became an assistant teacher for Duff, and continued teaching until she graduated from Bradley Central High school.
After graduating she became a full-time teacher, teaching ages 4 to adults the grace of ballet, the excitement of jazz and and the freestyle flair of hip-hop.
“It never crossed my mind to go professional,” Bentley admits. “I always wanted to teach. When I started assistant teaching to the little ones, I fell in love with teaching dance. I’ve always wanted to teach. I couldn’t get away from it. I just loved it. By age 14 or 15 I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
In 2008, Bentley opened Dance Studio 125. She continues to attend annual workshops and choreograph for local schools and pagents.
“Seeing kids coming in there shy, nervous and uncoordinated — then being able to build their confidence and watch them grow in their self-esteem and ability — that gave me everything. It gave me a rush and it still does.”
Ballroom dancing has become her latest craze which Bentley admits is fast becoming one of her favorite forms of dance to perform. Her studio is offering Cleveland’s only youth ballroom program.
In May, she and her dance partner Mark Franklin competed in the Choo Choo Challenge in Chattanooga, dancing the chacha, swing and mambo. They won first place.
Two of her students, Kamryn Woody, 9, and Ben DeWhitt, 6, also competed in the Choo Choo Challenge and won Best Overall youth ballroom dancers along with taking first place in dancing the swing.
“We also have two hip-hop competition teams that took home first place in the Chattanooga and Dalton (Ga.) competitions this past season,” said Bentley, who has won first place in other competitions.
“I just had a vision to give this community an opportunity to learn dance as children and adults in a positive environment,” she said. “Of course, we teach dance, flexibility and strength. That’s our main job. But what I pride myself in is in building confidence where kids can walk in a room, not knowing anybody, and make friends.”
According to Bentley, dancing is an excellent way for anyone to stay in shape without putting too much stress on the body.
“In fact, it’s a stress reliever,” she said. “No matter how bad my day is, I come here, shut that door and I look at all those little faces. Then we start dancing and everything disappears. It’s just about that moment. All your cares and problems go away for that hour. You get lost in the music.
“It also keeps your mind sharp too because you have to think! A lot of adults take dance to get in shape and to socialize. It’s fun and it’s positive. I love dance and I want everyone to get out of it what I got out of it.”
Bentley said she would love to hold a local “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser, with local “celebrities” who would be trained to dance by her professional teachers, to assist with ongoing tornado disaster relief.
“We need to hold our own ‘Dancing with the Stars’ for Cleveland and get judges, principals, teachers and lawyers, and hold a community fundraiser,” Bentley said. “That would be so much fun! I have plenty of professional teachers — men and women — who could work with them and make it a fun competition. We could include some well-known local athletes too.
“It would bring people together and help get them in shape as well as open up more awareness to dance. It would be a great fundraiser! I’ve been thinking about it for a year or two. Perhaps someone will offer to help me put this thing together.”
Bentley, the mother of Danie, 18, Maggie, 12, and Tucker, 11, said she feels her purpose in life is to work with children and be a role model for them.
“The compliments that really mean something to me is when people recognize that I am a Christian and I teach Christian values by the way I treat people — that means a lot to me,” Bentley said.
“When the kids (in dance) come running in here and want to be here — sending me texts and emailing me, saying, ‘I miss you! When is the next dance class? Let’s start back early!’ That warms my heart. That’s what gets me. I love to dance and I love being around kids. That’s what it’s all about.”
For further information visit, www.dancestudio125.com or call 716-4307.