Spisak Dance Academy’s beginnings trace back to a screened porch in Wickenburg. That’s where Ann Spisak, a professional dance performer, began giving lessons to her daughters and neighborhood children in 1960.
Why did you open a dance studio?
[Laughs.] I didn’t really think it through. It wasn’t in my plans. But it just happened so naturally that I realized that’s what I was meant to do. We had moved from Santa Barbara, Calif. over to Wickenburg, Ariz. with my two little girls. They were at the age where they wanted to dance. And there were not a whole lot of opportunities there.
How has the Valley changed over the years, in terms of dance?
Now, I believe, there is a dance school on every corner. When we first moved here, 19th Avenue north of Northern was a dirt road. So if you wanted to go anywhere, it had to be south of Northern. But as far as the dancing goes, it’s different. Dance is so big right now. It has never, ever been as big as it is now. And I think the TV programs have a lot to do with it.
What have you observed about changes in parenting from your interactions with families over the years?
It’s totally different.
When I first started my classes, the children would come in and not say a word. They were there to take a dance class. The parents would watch…if it was watch day. Never did they ask to watch at any other time.
Now, the kids just rule the roost. Nobody tells them “no.” You might say, “You have to have your hair in a bun” to a student. They’ll reply, “Mom said I didn’t have to.” And pull the elastic out.
That wouldn’t have happened in the early years?
You wouldn’t even think of it!
What’s your take on why?
I’m no psychologist. But just within my small field, the parents have to work, both of them. They have guilt feelings because they’re not with those children as much as they would like to be. So when they do have some time with them, they over-indulge. They don’t want to say “no” because “no” means the child is unhappy.
What do children ultimately gain from taking dance classes?
I have had so many people tell me that the benefits they get from a disciplined dance class are just amazing. And I’ve had them say to me, “Oh my gosh, she got right up in front of the class and said her little speech, and she never would have done that last year!”
Are you still dancing?
I am. A little bit. I teach the babies, and I have adult tap classes. I’m really into costuming now. I spend a lot of my time working on that.
How have costumes changed over the years? Have they become more provocative, skimpier?
I’ve had parents come to me and say, after watching a competition, “Thank you, thank you for your choice of music, for your costumes and for your choreography.” You [often] see small children doing things that shouldn’t be done.
So it depends on the studio. What could parents expect from your studio?
Well, a choice of music that has no swear words in it. A costume that covers up. I’m not opposed to [showing] a little belly button once in a while, if it’s a cute one. But that is not a flattering costume for everybody, so you can’t put it on the [entire] class.
Any tips for parents who have a budding dancer?
No pushing necessary. If you see some talent there, and you talk to mom—“Oh, she’s really been good, I’m so proud of her”—right away, the mother wants to enroll her in more classes. More this, more that, more crystals on her costume. And it just doesn’t work. It’s not a good thing. So, just kind of back off a little bit. Let the child make that decision. If she loves it, she’s going to be here.