By Laura McAlister
After 50 years in business, its name and venues have changed, but its mission and goal haven’t.
This year, Birmingham Dance Theatre, Inc. will celebrate its 50th anniversary. While owner Joni Scofield said lots has changed since her mother started teaching in 1962, their biggest joy is still making a difference in their students’ lives.
“That’s really my philosophy,” said Joni, who has been teaching dance for some 40 years. “It’s really about having a made a difference in the life of a child. It’s not winning a competition. It’s about teaching them life lessons.
“You can’t put a price tag on a trophy, but you can say you learned time management and responsibility from dance.”
Birmingham Dance Theatre will mark its anniversary with a recital and reunion May 26 at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex Children’s Theatre. Not only will current students be performing, but several of the studio’s alumni – some who haven’t danced in years, Joni said – will participate, too.
A small group of alumni has been getting together for several years to recap an old routine, but Joni said the May 26 anniversary recital and celebration will be a larger production to commemorate BDT’s five decades of dance.
Over the years, she said, many of the dancers who’ve come through the studio really have become like family, and now they are seeing second and even third generations at the studio.
It was family, and still is, said Joni, that got the studio started in the first place.
Joni’s mother, Nora Nash, founded the studio.
Nora first began teaching at Miss Beverly’s Dance Studio in Midfield in 1962. Then she went out on her own in 1966 and opened Nora Nash Dance Studio.
“When Mom was a little girl, she would always go to the Mickey Mouse Club every Saturday out at the Alabama Theatre,” Joni said. “That sparked her love for dancing, and she took tap – she’s a tapper – from Jack Saxon, and at some point she decided to start teaching.”
Nora Nash Dance Studio was in Vinesville from 1966-71 and then moved to Central Park until 1974 before moving to Vestavia Hills. It was located on Park South Place until 2001, when it moved into its current location at 100 Olde Towne Road in Vestavia Hills.
Joni grew up in the business, though she didn’t determine until high school that teaching with her mother was where she wanted to be. She went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to get her degree in dance. While she didn’t finish that, she did get a degree in business. After graduation she was teaching full time, and her mother was also operating a nearby costume store, Costume Creations.
In 1984, Joni took over the family business and officially changed the name to Birmingham Dance Theatre.
Around the same time Joni took over, the studio got involved in dance competitions.
“We were one of the first in Birmingham to do that,” Joni said. “That became something huge. We thought we were good back then, but we’ve really taken it to the next level.”
Some talented dancers have also made their way through BDT over the years. About 10 Alabama Junior Miss winners were students of BDT, and the 2001 Miss America Junior Miss Carrie Colvin is a former student. Joni said another student, Robert Hoffman, was named Mr. Dance of America and made an appearance on “Beverly Hills 90210” as well as other sitcoms and movies.
Joni’s sister Sandy Coker also taught at BDT, as did Sandy’s daughter Lindsay Coker Corley. Joni’s own daughters, Ally Nora and McCall, are students at the University of Alabama but are also involved with the studio. Joni suspects they’ll be more involved once they graduate.
Although much has changed since Joni’s mother began teaching some 50 years ago, much has truly stayed the same. BDT remains a family business, and while now they offer classes to toddlers and have added hip hop dance, they also still have the classics, like ballet, pointe and tap.
“It’s really just been so much fun,” Joni said. “Through the years, we’ve probably had about 10,000 students. I have a lot of former students come back and say, ‘Oh I had you.’ Some are coming back with their children.
“I’ve had some of them tell me I’ve mellowed a lot. Maybe I need to work on getting my edge back.”