MONROE, CT — Since social distancing measures were put into place due to Covid-19 in March, girls enrolled at Connecticut Dance have been practicing their moves with instructors online. It seems like nothing can stop this Monroe business. Now in its 30th year, the dance studio continues to thrive.
“A virus can’t stop us from dancing,” Andrea Stratford, owner of Connecticut Dance, told her students and their families. “Closures can’t stop us from dancing. If you have a soul, you can dance. Dance in your living room, in your garage, in your bedroom. Have a dance party in the kitchen.”
Stratford first started dancing at age seven and “instantly fell in love with it.”
“When my mom picked me up from my first dance class, I told her that I was going be just like Miss Debi when I grew up,” she recalled. “I knew from that moment that was what I was going to do with my life.”
Stratford attended the University of Buffalo as a dance major, before dancing professionally with Greg Thompson Productions touring company for five years. She danced in Philadelphia, Nevada, and St. Thomas — and choreographed for Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas cruise ship.
She started Connecticut Dance at Crescent Village on Main Street in Monroe 30 years go. “It was a great spot for starting out, but after four years in that location I quickly outgrew the space and needed a second dance room,” Stratford said.
She relocated her studio to its current location at Clock Tower Square, 477 Main St., where her business continued to grow, adding a third dance room five years later.
“I have been very happy at my current location. It has easy access, not only to all of Monroe, but also Newtown, Easton, Redding, Trumbull, Bethel and Fairfield,” Stratford said. “The landlords are wonderful people and after working with them for over 26 years they are like a family to me.”
The shopping center is owned by the Tartaglia family.
Connecticut Dance has 10 employees, two of whom worked with Stratford for 29 years and three who are her former students.
The dance studio has over 300 students, ranging from two-years-old to adults. Connecticut Dance, which does not compete, focuses on community events, performing throughout the year for nursing home residents, at local charities, and hosting benefit fundraisers.
The creative process
“Working with the kids is always a joy and I genuinely enjoy working with all ages, from the littlest dancers all the way up to the most advanced dancers,” Stratford said. “I crave the creative process and seeing what I have envisioned in my mind and to the music come to life through the students.”
Connecticut Dance has helped aspiring young dancers, some who went on to have successful careers in the arts. Many became dance teachers, while others danced professionally. Mike Warshaw went on to perform on Broadway in “42nd Street,” John Campbell was accepted into the Tap Dogs touring company, and Gianna Forte is a Washington Ballet trainee.
“Several have gone on to dance with professional dance companies and some started their own dance companies, but my heart swells the most when a former student brings their own children back to dance with us,” Stratford said. “There is no greater honor and privilege.”
The show must go on
Stratford and her husband, Dennis, live in Newtown and the couple has four sons ranging from age 10 to 25.
“They all danced for a period, but eventually moved on to other sports,” Stratford said.
Earlier in the year, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce hosted an event to help the staff at Connecticut Dance celebrate the academy’s 30 year milestone.
“The Monroe Chamber is a wonderful group of enthusiastic supporters and advisors that I have found to be invaluable,” Stratford said. “They were genuinely excited to help celebrate our 30th Anniversary and wanted to be sure it was what I envisioned.”
Stratford is determined to come up with a plan that will allow her students to perform this year, though she said any plan will be tentative and depend upon state regulations.
She and her staff surveyed parents to see how they felt, before deciding to try for two small performances in late August, one for the older students in theatre and another outside on a rented dance floor in the studio parking lot.
Stratford envisions parents bringing lawn chairs and blankets to watch their children perform when their class is called up to the stage. Carl Anthony’s, a neighboring business, offered to set up its pizza trucks for the event to show their support.
“The show this year is going to be more about resilience than fancy backdrops or lighting effects,” Stratford said.
In a weekly email update, she encouraged families to view the scheduled late summer productions as “a celebration of strength, perseverance, dedication, community, and love.”
Lessons from Dad
Stratford’s entrepreneurial spirit comes from her father, who owned and operated Smith’s Rustproofing in Lancaster, N.Y., for 30 years. She also credits him for Connecticut Dance’s staying power.
“I learned so much from watching my dad run his business,” Stratford said, “and I always admired the way he spoke to and treated his customers — like best friends and family members. I also watched how hard he worked, but at the same time knew how to have fun and not take himself too seriously. I feel these traits are extremely important as a business owner.”
“I’m not really sure how it’s already been 30 years,” she added of her dance studio. “I feel so blessed to have been able to have my love of dance, which began as a hobby, actually turn into my career while enjoying much success over the years.”