Dancing to a rendition of the Beatles' "Let it Be," members of SuperStars perform at the 17th annual dance recital for Dance Workshop by Shari at Upper St. Clair High School Theater.
By Jane Vranish Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Students at Dance Workshop by Shari, a dance institution in the South Hills, are taught to bring passion to their performances -- and to their lives.
The dance studio in Whitehall's Caste Village had a recital recently; it is the studio being reviewed this year during the busy June dance recital season.
Owner and instructor Shari Opfermann said she wants to teach not only dance lessons but also life lessons. She doesn't measure her 17-year-old school's success only by the trophies and awards her students win, even though the number is considerable, including this year's Teen Miss Dance of Pennsylvania, which went to student Rachel Bove.
Ms. Opfermann calls her philosophy "dancing for a difference" and describes it as her "dream to be able to have the students use their talents and gifts to help others in the community."
This year, aside from the annual performance at Upper St. Clair the weekend of May 31 and June 1, her students have participated in a dozen community programs and several charity events, including KDKA's Free Care Fund Telethon and Relay for Life's Survivors' Breakfast.
The school began other avenues of giving by establishing an annual benefit. "Have a Heart By Rudy and Friends," a Valentine's Day show that began as a party for the local women's shelter, is now a full-fledged variety show that netted $2,300 for Gilda's Club Western Pennsylvania. "Gifts of Dance and Other Offerings," a variety show presented in early December with a holiday theme, collected $4,300 for Children's Hospital.
Since 2003, the dance school has raised $41,000 for national and local charities.
The workshop's studios may be decorated in soft pastels -- with Ms. Opfermann noting that "you can never have too much purple" -- but it's obvious that there is a strength behind those who run it.
Studio administrator Cathy Lavin left a software company after 20 years to work to help organize the fund-raising efforts. While her daughters were studying at the workshop, she saw that Ms. Opfermann was "an excellent business woman with a wonderful head on her shoulders."
Together, with a dozen women on the teaching staff, they want to empower their 500-plus students through uplifting messages. This year's recital was titled "Believe ... Dance to Lift the Spirit."
In the program, students finish the sentence, "I believe ..."
Five-year-old Aubrianna Whitworth writes, "I believe that Santa Claus is real."
Ten-year old Jessica Hanson believes that "chocolate and dancing can put a smile on anyone's face."
And 18-year old Shannon Sowinski said, "I believe if you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it, so believe in yourself."
A 60-member competing and performing company started things off at the May 31 performance with "Believe" and the graduating students performed "Follow Your Dreams," a long-time tradition at the school.
Some are the "Nicest Kids in Town," and others are "Dancing Your Dreams." The advanced students end the night with "Feeling Good."
"They take [the passion and hard work] with them in whatever capacity they choose in life," Ms. Opfermann said. "That love of dance continues with them."
Ms. Opfermann wanted the entire show to become a true celebration of all that the students have accomplished through the year.
"We're making memories all the time," she said, something that was obvious as a class of tiny tots, dressed accordingly, performed "Every Girl Can Be A Princess."