by Dennis Dalman – firstname.lastname@example.org
After 25 years as a dance teacher, Shelly Teff likes to tell her friends she “has grown old in the gym.”
They laugh at her because there is nothing “old” about Teff. Her love of dancing and the joy of working with students keeps her young, and those who know Teff know there is enough passion and energy in her to teach dancing for another 25 years – at least.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Sartell-St. Stephen Education Program Danceline. It was started by Teff when her daughter, Missy, was in second grade in what is now the District Services Center. At that time, Teff decided Missy and her friends needed something, a special and creative activity beyond what the school offered. The dance classes were a hit and soon they filled with other girls. The program has grown every year and now averages 210 girls ages pre-school through senior high school for a variety of age-category classes three times a week.
Missy, the daughter Teff taught way back then, has been her loyal dance-instruction assistant throughout all those years. Besides serving as emcee for the shows, Missy choreographs the ever-popular dazzling light-show dance every year. She lives in Hopkins and is employed by United Health in Minnetonka.
The culmination of all the choreography and practice is the annual Spring Dance Show, which is always packed to standing-room-only with proud parents, siblings and relatives of the many dancers.
“I don’t know off-hand how many students I’ve taught,” Teff said. “But it’s got to be in the thousands. Right now, we are compiling lists of names of every girl who was ever in the program. Their names will be displayed on a board during our big show April 20 (1:30 p.m.) at the high school. We’ll also have lots of photos from all those years on display at the show.”
That spring show, which will be the formal 25th anniversary celebration, will take place Saturday, April 20 at Sartell High School. Teff is inviting any and all former dancers to be a part of the show. Teff and others are putting out “all-point bulletins” to all danceline alumni, asking them to show up for a quick-and-easy rehearsal from 7-9 p.m. Friday, April 19 at Sartell High School the day before the show. Teff is hoping at least 60 alumni will agree to be in the show, which will feature a combination of old songs and new, plus the scintillating light-show finale, which will be as colorful and bright as a 25-candle-power birthday cake.
“The oldest alumna is my daughter and the others who were in my first class, so they are about 33 years old right now,” Teff said.
Plans for the spring show include, of course, lots of weekly practice for dancers in this year’s program. Classes will begin Monday, Feb. 11. Anyone interested should call Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education office at 253-4036. Girls can join any time during the first week of classes (Feb. 11-18). They and their parents can just show up if they like. Alumni who would like to be in the spring show should also call community education at 253-4036.
Dance classes last for 10 weeks and meet one night a week. There is a class for every grade level.
Looking back on the quarter century of the dance program, Teff feels a mixture of deep affection, excitement and a sense of delight.
“What I always loved most is just being with those kids,” she said. “I always looked forward to that. Every year. It was so good to see them develop confidence and self-esteem, and the program helped them make new friends.”
Teff sometimes gets tears in her eyes when she explains how she feels about the program. Last year, a little girl was so shy she just could not bring herself to dance. Teff convinced the girl’s mother to sit in the very front row during the big show, and then Teff made sure the girl’s place in the dance group would be very near her mother. During the show, the girl saw her mother swaying in time to the music. The girl, so happy to see her mother, smiled and began to dance.
“And she danced through the whole show,” Teff recalled. “You should’ve seen the huge smiles on that mother and daughter. It was so precious. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.”
Born in Foley, Teff always wanted to be a teacher because she loved being around little children. Although she never became a classroom teacher, she more than made up for that lack when she started her dance teaching 25 years ago. As it turned out, her lifelong love of dancing and of children led her heart and mind in the right direction.
Teff is a receptionist for MidSota Plastic Surgeons. She also spends countless hours volunteering at the Good Shepherd Home in Sauk Rapids.
She and her husband, Larry, have two children – Missy of Hopkins and Chris of Foley. Larry and Chris are huge fans of Teff’s dancing classes and attend every show. Another big fan is Teff’s mother, Margaret Rymer, 84, of Sartell, who has never missed a dance show.
“She sits beside me at the shows,” Teff said. “She’s my number-one fan. “She has always helped with costumes – washing, ironing, sewing. I couldn’t ask for a better family.”
And Teff has a large, extended “family.” She considers her students and their families all part of a bigger family.
“I’ve always felt that way,” she said. “It’s a family. We are all a family.”
Teff’s dedication was honored a couple of years ago when the Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce named her “Citizen of the Year,” presented to her as a surprise in the middle of her annual spring show.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.