by Dennis Dalman
If it weren’t for the passion and persistence of Shelly Teff, the 25th annual Community Education Spring Dance Show would probably have been cancelled.
A relentless bout of snowy cold spells in April just about spelled doom for rehearsals for the April 20 show, which typically draws standing-room-only audiences at Sartell High School.
Teff had to get special permission from the school district to hold rehearsals on a day when school was cancelled. Teff, parents and dancers kept wondering if snow and cold would wipe out their show. But, led by Teff, all participants were bound-and-determined to defeat the unseasonable spring. “The show must go on” was their attitude.
And go on it did, with triumphant results. The ecstatic audience, filling the bleachers, roared its approval during and after the April 20 anniversary show, with many performances by a total of 199 dancers of all ages, including a performance by dance-program alumni who came back to Sartell to join the anniversary show.
After the show, parents presented Teff with two gifts – a new video recorder (her other one had broken this dance season) and a gift certificate for a tree at a local greenhouse. Teff, a gardening-flower enthusiast, had said she intends to plant a tree that, as it grows, will remind her of the many girls she watched grow and bloom under her 25 years of dance instruction.
Twenty-five years ago, Teff began a dance program for the Sartell-St. Stephen School District because she wanted her young daughter, Missy, to have a chance to learn dancing. To this day, after all those years, Missy still helps her mother with the program and serves as emcee. Right after Teff started the class, there were just a few girls, but soon the program became extremely popular for girls of all ages, through the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education program.
Tess has the sweet satisfaction of now teaching many of the daughters of the mothers she taught years ago.
And after 25 years, Teff is not about to quit, which she made clear in a thank-you message sent to the Sartell Newsleader.
“I would like to thank all my dancers and their parents for the wonderful gifts presented to me at our 25th anniversary dance show,” she wrote. “For 25 years I have had the honor of teaching dance to the most fantastic dancers and meeting their parents. It’s so good to know our Community Ed Dance Program is truly a community program, which is what makes it so great. With my wonderful staff, great support from the Community Education office, great parents and wonderful dancers, it’s easy to teach dance. My love for it never ends. I look forward to seeing those smiling faces back in the fall.”
For years, parents of the dancers have praised Teff for making the dance program truly democratic in which each and every dancer, despite their relative skill levels, is treated as important. Tess, as many parents have pointed out, has the ability to make even the shyest girls bloom in her class, bringing about poise and confidence. One young girl was so shy, she didn’t think she could dance at all in a public show. Tess made sure the girl’s mother was sitting at the front of the bleachers, at eye level with her daughter. When the daughter, from the dance floor, saw her encouraging mother smiling, she too smiled and danced happily.
What is emphasized above all else is a sense of fun – dancing as fun. To Teff and to everyone else involved, fun is the heart of the program.
“Shelly makes dance fun for everyone,” said Raelynn Justin, whose daughter, 10-year-old Dana, dances in the program. “My daughter will keep dancing as long as Shelly keeps teaching.”
Teff has a knack for transforming her students, Justin said.
“She brings out the girls’ true characters and talents,” she said. “She has a way of getting everybody to dance, and she always figures out a way so every girl who wants to dance can afford to be in the program. And she is very resourceful. She’s such a great teacher and so are all her assistant teachers.”
For the April 20 show, many parents helped get the show ready, including Kristie Steffes, whose 12-year-old daughter, Summer Kleinschmidt, is a dancer and has been since age 4. The night before the show, Steffes and a friend cut out many construction-paper stars for the big day.
Steffes herself was once a student of Teff’s, back in the years from 1988 to 1992. Steffes was one of about 25 alumni who danced in the anniversary show.
“It was a lot of fun, even though I haven’t danced for 12 years,” she said. “Shelly has always been so supportive and put in so many hours year after year, doing most of the work by herself with help from assistants. She makes the dancing so much fun.”
Julie Muenchow started dances with Teff when she was in kindergarten. She was one of the alumni dancers April 20. Throughout the years, especially after Muenchow was no longer a student, she helped Teff teach the girls.
“I helped her when I was in high school and college,” she said. “Shelly is wonderful. So good with kids. Always making sure it’s fun and everyone’s involved. She makes every dancer feel she’s important.”
Muenchow was thrilled with the anniversary show because it’s the first one she actually had a chance to watch. In previous years, she’d been so busy helping with the shows she couldn’t see it as an audience member would.
“In 15 years, it’s the first show I got to see from the bleachers,” she said. “It was wonderful.”
Muenchow summed up Teff’s dance program with the following words:
“It was always so much fun. And there was never pressure. “Everybody, at the end of the day, knew we were there to do a good job, but while knowing that we always had a lot of fun.”
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.