Classical ballet, modern dance, jazz, hip-hop and tap—regardless of how you move, Indy’s southside has a studio for that

By Alisa Advani
Photography by Josh Marshall

Stage I Dance Academy

Visitors to Stage I Dance Academy in Greenwood will find class options in ballet, tap, jazz, musical theater, contemporary dance, hip-hop and tumbling. Instructor Beverly Smithey, who has owned the studio for 53 years, also offers piano and voice lessons, as well as adult fitness classes.

Smithey describes her studio as family- oriented with high morals. “We use age-appropriate music and costumes for our dancers,” she explains.

Many of the instructors who run classes at Stage I also got their own starts in dance at the studio when they were youngsters. “They (the instructors) know firsthand the curriculum, procedures and policies that make our studio successful,” she says.

Smithey herself has studied dance since she was 4 years old and began teaching when she was just 15. “It is the only job that I have ever done,” she says. “Each day I continue to find pride and excitement in the dance studio and with the many dancers I have taught.”

Melanie Mobley, an 18-year-old dancer who has studied at Stage I since she was 2, feels that the southside and “her excellent teacher Miss Beverly” have prepared her for college and beyond. “Everyone expects New York, Chicago and L.A. to have incredible dance opportunities,” she says. “No one would really guess that southside Indy has so much going on in dance. There are quite a few great studios in this area.

“Just in this last year alone, the Stage I dancers have had the opportunity to take classes from someone in the national tour of Broadway’s ‘Wicked,’” Mobley says. “We have learned choreography for competitions and recitals from three amazing guest instructors from three different states, and we have had the chance to travel and perform on a Carnival cruise ship.”

Mobley plans to study dance in college and eventually wants to break into the commercial aspect of dance. “From music videos to TV commercials to films to even Broadway, as long as I’m dancing, I know I will be happy,” she says. “I have been accepted to schools in New York and L.A., but I am still undecided as to which one I will attend in the fall.”

Aside from seeing her dancers thrive, one of Smithey’s proudest accomplishments was raising money for the Emily Hunt Foundation for Spinal Cord Research. Over the course of a decade, Stage I raised more than $100,000 for the foundation.

In 1996, at the age of 4, Emily Hunt was injured in an amusement park accident. The accident resulted in legislation— Emily’s Law—being passed that toughened amusement park regulations.

As a young girl, she had hoped to one day become a ballerina. Eventually— despite her disability—Hunt became a member of Stage I’s ranks, and she performed in productions with the group at an annual fundraiser held at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis.

“In the early years, Emily (who now attends Ball State University) would attend the fundraisers and be honored at the performances,” says Smithey. “As she got older (between 2003 and 2005), she actually performed in them from her wheelchair. One year, she was actually able to stand with the help of a brace for the production.”

Dance Refinery

When Lynn Herrick, who runs the Dance Refinery on Shelby Street in Indianapolis, sees one of her families hit with hardship, she springs into action and raises scholarship money to pay for classes, costumes and shoes for the dance student. “We just had a student lose a parent,” says Herrick. “Our goal is to try to help keep the child’s life as normal as possible. We want to help her maintain this outlet. She can come here and just have fun.”

Herrick, who owned the Dance Refinery for 33 years before turning it into a nonprofit organization, has personally experienced the benefits of keeping up with regular dance classes during a childhood tragedy. “I had a sister who died of brain cancer when I was a child,” she says. “The people who helped my parents keep things stable for me were godsends.”

In addition to that life-changing event, Herrick also spent her childhood thinking she would one day lose the use of her eyes. “When I was 6, doctors told my parents that I had a macular degeneration condition that would eventually take my sight,” she explains. “After the diagnosis, my mom enrolled me in dance lessons because she wanted me to have as much experience as possible moving freely before my vision was gone.”

At 21, Herrick learned that she had been misdiagnosed. By then, her love of dance, however, was set in stone. Dance “was always my favorite thing,” she says. “I put myself through college at Butler (University) by working at night running my studio.”

The Dance Refinery offers classes for children as young as 18 months through adults. Natalie Clevenger, a 16-year-old who attends Mooresville High School, has studied at the Dance Refinery for four years. “I take everything: ballet, jazz, tap, tumbling, contemporary dance,” she says. “I dance competitively. We compete at two regional and one national competition.”

Clevenger, who has danced since she was 8, plans on auditioning at Juilliard, Point Park, Butler and Arizona universities. “It’s good to have a life away from things,” she says. “Dance can take you away. You can express your emotions and just be yourself.”

Girls are not the only ones benefiting from dance. Males also have a strong presence in the southside dance scene. Austin Madden, a 22-year-old Purdue University industrial technology and biology major, took dance lessons with his sisters as a youngster growing up in Center Grove. Madden, like many others, began lessons at the age of 2, and he continued dancing until he graduated from Roncalli High School at 18 and left for West Lafayette. His dance experience, he says, made his stint from 2011 to 2013 as a Purdue cheerleader much easier.

Madden believes his time at Dance Refinery also enhanced his high school years. “It (a dance studio) is just a different atmosphere,” he says. “I got to meet a different set of people and share an interest. I had connections with people from all over the place. Taking dance helped my agility and endurance when I played football. It really helped me sprint. I also opened myself up to new things, and it helped me through high school to be open to other things.