By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
When Kim Swanson starts talking about the powerful positive force dance can be in a child’s life, when you hear the conviction slowly rising in her voice and see it in her eyes, you realize why she has had a successful dance studio for 20 years, the past nine in Brentwood.
She owns The Studio, which has been at 1332 Strassner in the Hanley Industrial Park for the past 14 months and before that was on Brentwood Boulevard across from the Mobil station. She, her daughter Amanda and several part-time instructors teach about 120 students of all ages in ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, tumbling and hip-hop dance. She’s also an accomplished casting director.
Though Swanson says she never set out to own a dance studio or be a casting director, a number of powerful experiences nudged her down the road she’s traveling. “I love the saying, ‘I had a plan and God laughed,'” she said.
One key experience led her to start her own dance studio over 20 years ago. After getting married in Missouri and divorcing her husband in Ohio, she moved back to St. Louis with her daughter. She longed to resume her dance career in Los Angeles but “I found out the hard way that once you’re divorced in the state of Missouri you can’t leave the state with your child without permission from your ex,” she said. “He wouldn’t let me move to California. So I thought, ‘God has me here for a reason, let me figure it out.’ So I got a couple more crummy office jobs I hated. I got a job working in corporate finance in a cubicle. Can you imagine a dancer in a cubicle? It was just awful. I remember going to pick my daughter up from daycare just holding that steering wheel and shaking and crying.”
Swanson was teaching dance part time but disagreed with the instructor she was working with. “I was so hurt by how she’d talk to the kids,” she said. “She’d yell at this one little seven-year-old girl who was chubby and just the cutest girl. She kept getting on the wrong foot on one part of the dance. The instructor would scream at her, ‘Do you want everybody to see you screw up?’ I thought, ‘She’s only seven, what difference does it make if the world sees her on the wrong foot?’ In the recital that year the girl was on stage and did it on the wrong foot and as soon as she did she just froze, her face turned beet red, she looked at the audience and her eyes welled up with tears. I thought it was so wrong. So I decided to quit teaching.”
At about that time, Kim and other members of the Clayton United Methodist Church received a letter from their new pastor asking for ideas for new programs at the church, especially for kids. “I thought maybe I could teach some dance classes in the church basement. That way Amanda could take dance and I could control the environment. So I sent out flyers and letters and had eight students show up for a Saturday morning class that year.”
By the second year she had 17 students, then 57 for year 3. “So I thought, ‘I need to do something with this,'” she said. She opened a small dance studio on DeMun Avenue in Clayton, then moved to a space behind the Hi Pointe Theater. Nine years ago she moved The Studio to Brentwood. Her newest space on Strassner reflects her philosophy of having a family-friendly studio. There’s a waiting room up front where kids can do homework or bring in a meal and in the back there are windows so parents can watch their children during dance lessons. “Most dance studios don’t let parents watch,” said Swanson. “But I think it’s good for parents to participate and be a part of it. When they give a thumbs-up through the window or clap or wave, it encourages a child to love dance because they’re getting that positive reaction from their parents. No matter how old we are, we all want and need our parents’ approval. Plus, dance lessons are one of the things that you think about when you want to have children, so why not get to enjoy it? Why send them into a room where the teacher closes the door and you only get to see them once a month for 10 minutes or once a year in a recital?”
Dance lessons are held at The Studio seven days a week. Most are taught by Kim’s daughter Amanda Fedor, 26, who has instructed in St. Louis for 10 years and in Los Angeles for two years.
Kim still teaches but spends a lot of time as a casting director. “When I got remarried and was expecting my son, William, who is now 14, I hired somebody temporarily to help teach because I was pregnant. She was a TV producer. I helped her get talent three times within about a month and she said ‘You really should think about being a casting director.’ I said ‘Not me.’ She showed me how much they get paid and I said, “Ooo, that’s a lot more than teaching shuffle steps.'”
Kim grew up in Danville, Illinois, where she took tap dance lessons at age four because she’d been born with her legs twisted backwards.”My mom just cried and cried and cried and asked Doc Moore, who’d been our family’s doctor for several generations, ‘What’s wrong with my little girl?’ He said, ‘She’ll be fine just put her in tap dancing lessons as soon as she can walk.'”
As a teenager Kim took gymnastics at a YMCA in nearby Champaign-Urbana where the U.S. Olympic team trained. She took dance lessons in Danville until her teacher ran out of material. “She asked my mom if she [the teacher] could take me with her to Chicago for her own dance lessons,” said Swanson. “So my mom would drive us to Champaign at 4 a.m., we’d ride the Amtrak to Chicago, run with suitcases to catch the El, ride that to Evanston, get off and run to the dance studio Giordano’s, which was the most famous jazz school in the nation. We’d take class all day Saturday, stay in a fleabag hotel on Saturday nights, which I knew to not tell my mom about, take class all day Sunday and go home. I was dancing about 20 hours a week.”
After high school Kim wanted to go to Los Angeles to dance but her parents said she should go to college. She was offered a full-ride dance scholarship from Illinois State University but she attended an advanced dance class there and found it boring. The University of Illinois offered only ballet. “I knew I would never make it as a ballet dancer because I’m too tall,” said Swanson. A Danville friend attracted her to Patricia Stevens, then a finishing school in St. Louis, where for a year she learned modeling, PR and secretarial studies. “I thought that when I finished there I’d go to LA where I could work at a night desk in hotel/motel management or as a legal secretary for an attorney while I auditioned.”
Kim sold her car and bought a plane ticket for Los Angeles, but three days before graduation the air traffic controllers went on strike. “So my ticket was worthless and I had no car and no way to get there,” she said. She ended up back in St. Louis working as a recruiter for Patricia Stevens. Then she met her first husband, whose sales job moved them to Ohio.
‘This Was Never My Plan’
Swanson has never made that move to Los Angeles, but she’s cool with it because she’s gotten so much satisfaction out of the career she wasn’t planning on. “This was never my plan,” she said. “I always say that the best thing I can do is just get up each day and say, ‘Okay, God, take me where I’m supposed to be. Thy will be done.’ Because I don’t know where I’ll be four years from now. Who knows?”
Then she added, “My God is an on-time God. I’ve never gone too long without a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back and a family that loves me. What more could you want? There are days I think, ‘How am I going to do this?’ or ‘Where’s that money going to come from?’ I just look up and say, ‘Okay God, you’ve got to take this one.’ And, there it is, something will show up. Without fail.”
3 thoughts on “Fruit of Her Dance Career Is The Studio”
wow! this is so inspiring, i think i’m going to take dance lessons here!
Yeah, you should totally come to The Studio! I think you would really love taking class.
I’ve been taking dance class at The Studio inc. for about 10 years, and there is no doubt in my mind that my dance studio is the safest, most incredible place on Earth. I get to be surrounded by amazing people three days a week. Miss Kim is a person who doesn’t just teach us dance, that’s just a minimal part of her job. Her main goal is to make us better people inside and out. I wish everyone could get a chance to meet this wonderful person, but I guess not everyone can be as lucky as I am. Miss Kim is a mother to everyone in her dance Studio, she doesn’t have favorites, and she is amazingly caring. I love you Miss Kim and Miss Amanda! -Mia (the girl with short hair in the awesome tap picture)