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VAM Studios Empowers Us To Dream, Create & Inspire

by Kirby Laney, posted 19 February 2018

 

Now in Fremont for a year, VAM Studios offers youth and adult dance classes.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jan '18

Now in Fremont for a year, VAM Studios offers youth and adult dance classes. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jan ’18

Now entering their second year in Fremont, VAM Studios continues to grow and stretch, with more opportunities for dancers, and potential dancers, to dream – as they welcome more students (and teachers) into the community.  The dance school came to Fremont with an already established reputation, and the inviting and accessible atmosphere the school offers, for toddler to adult students, has drawn in many who never thought to dance.

Yet, founder Veronica Mendonca and her husband and co-owner, Mark Mendonca, admit that they still have room to grow, in many ways.  Word-of-mouth has drawn many students, but they can welcome many more.

“You are never too old to dream,” Mark acknowledged, “we’re giving people a place to dream.  Since we’ve taken the studio on, we’ve been seeing something amazing happening.”  They’ve got students, from ages 3 to one 65-year-old, learning tap for the first time.

“A woman had been told that she couldn’t do ballet because she was too fat and not graceful,” Veronica explained.  The Mendoncas didn’t see either judgements as true, but they also do not see either as reasons not to try.  Thanks to a small-minded teacher from her past, “she thought she couldn’t even take a class,” Mark observed.  Today, she enjoys the freedom of movement and the community created in a dance class.

“We hope that we offer someone a chance to live a dream,” Veronica said.  ‘Dream, Create, Inspire’ is the vision of VAM Studios.  Yet, also, by joining a class, “you join a great community,” Mark observed, “Just amazing!”

Ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and flamenco classes round out the curriculum at VAM Studios, with the largest offering of tap classes in Seattle.  Photo provided by VAM

Ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and flamenco classes round out the curriculum at VAM Studios, with the largest offering of tap classes in Seattle. Photo provided by VAM

Inside VAM Studios

VAM Studios took over classrooms previously used by Literacy Source, across the street from the Fremont Branch Library.  With a great deal of fix-up, they converted the space into three studios – A, B, & C – with installation of sprung maple floors, ideal for tap but also appropriate for other forms of dance.  “The whole family put them in over Thanksgiving of 2016,” explained Mark, about installation of the floors, designed by Ben Harmon, a business partner (with his wife, Julie.)

The studios diminish in size with their letter designations – studio A being largest, and C the smallest, with a viewing window from the corridor.  Studio C most often hosts the classes for the youngest students, allowing opportunities for parents and relatives to participate vicariously and watch their prodigies.

This year, though, VAM Studios will expand their studio space, onto the second floor of the building.  Expected to be open for use later this year, the second-floor studios will have Marley flooring, a sprung laminate better for ballet, jazz and contemporary dance.

“Ballet, that’s my area,” Veronica explained, and the expansion of the studio spaces – plus the addition of more experienced instructors – is exciting as it allows for even more dance options.

Today, VAM Studios has classes available in jazz, flamenco, hip hop, yoga, classical & contemporary ballet, and creative movement.  However, the school is best known for having Seattle’s largest adult tap dance program.

From The First Steps

Veronica & Mark Mendonca in Studio A at VAM Studios, in Fremont.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jan '18

Veronica & Mark Mendonca in Studio A at VAM Studios, in Fremont. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jan ’18

VAM Studios started at the Mendonca’s Crown Hill home, in an outbuilding they converted into a studio for both of the professional dancers.  Even now both Mark Mendonca and Veronica Mendonca work professionally, dancing on stage, in film and for special events, while they maintain teaching schedules.

The built the home studio to allow them to practice, but they also used it for teaching their children.  “We weren’t trying to grow a business,” Mark explained about the origins of VAM Studios, “Our kids wanted to dance.”

While home-schooling their children, the couple naturally included dance in the curriculum.  As friends, and friends of friends, of their children asked for lessons, “it got a little out of control,” Veronica acknowledged.  Mostly, the children wanted to put on shows, and they built a ‘dinner’ theater, with some productions expanded to four shows over a weekend.  Eventually, “it was too much to do in our house,” she observed.

The couple looked around for space where they could expand, and they found the studios of revered, veteran tap dance teacher, Anthony Peters, now retired.  “His students were freaking out,” Mark teased, about the studio, “they called me, and asked if we would take it over.”  Negotiations on leasing Peters’ Green Lake studio fell apart, but the commitment to his students moved forward, with support from Ben, who studied under Peters.

When they found space at the Center of the Universe, it felt like fate to Veronica.  “I’ve always loved the energy in Fremont,” she admitted.  They found the school opening, and its quick growth, exceeding their expectations.  “We weren’t thinking it was going to happen so fast,” she observed.

Both dancers, who have impressive teaching resumes, expected to open a dance school ‘someday’.  VAM Studios has come together faster and more successfully than they expected.  “We have to hurry to catch up with it,” Veronica said.

Classes & Community Combine

VAM Studios offers adult and youth programs, “pretty equally,” Veronica mused.  The tap classes, nearly all taught by Mark Mendonca, draw in enthusiastic learners.  “Someone with his experience is hard to find,” Veronica acknowledged, “someone who can bring as much experience.  There are certain technical aspects that are important, basic technique, to learn so that you are not going to get hurt.”

Veronica Mendonca shows Studio B at VAM to Kirby Laney.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jan '18

Veronica Mendonca shows Studio B at VAM to Kirby Laney. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jan ’18

In addition to encouraging dreaming, VAM Studios has in its mission a dedication to teaching an ‘awareness about developing and maintaining a balanced and healthy mind and body.’  In the teen and child classes, they require all students to warm-up to prevent injury, as ‘the dancer’s health and well being are of utmost importance to us.’

“We encourage,” people to put on the tap shoes and just play with the noises, Mark observed, “they make a cool sound!”  Yet, VAM Studios offers anyone, of any age, an opportunity to learn to dance, safely and with proper technique.  “People can learn tap, from the foundation up,” Mark said, and age is no limit.

One big difference between youth and adult programs is the commitment.  For youth classes, VAM asks each child be given a placement assessment, to properly enroll them in the right class.  “We want to be open to everyone who walks in,” Veronica acknowledged, but they don’t want children to be in classes too advanced, or too rudimentary.  Perhaps more significantly, youth must enroll in a full semester of training.  (Click here for more details.)

In contrast, all adult classes allow for drop-in (as space allows,) as well as full semester students.  Classes can be paid for individually, with a class card (5, 10 and 20 class cards are available,) with discounts on larger class commitments.  VAM Studios also offers private lessons for adults.  (Click here for more details.)

All students, youth and adult, are invited and encouraged to participate in one of the VAM Studios showcase performances, the ‘Winter Show’ in December and the ‘Spring Show’ in June.  The shows give students a chance to share the hard work and dedication they’ve given to building their skills, with friends and family.  The shows also connect students with that final element of live performance, the audience, and give classes an end point and goal to reach.  Students are not required to participate in the showcase, but the option is available to all.

Veronica Mendonca, founder of VAM Studios, during a recent professional ballet performance.  Photo provided by VAM

Veronica Mendonca, founder of VAM Studios, during a recent professional ballet performance. Photo provided by VAM

Self-Discipline, Teamwork & Other Lessons

“Dance, and physical activity, are conducive to creating good brain pathways,” Veronica observed, “Dance classes teach self-discipline, teamwork and ways to navigate different personalities.”  Dance can also instruct us in how to best work under pressure.  As she observed, “There are so many lessons.”

“Music and dance are essential to being human,” Mark observed.  Mark mentioned a specific dance, called the Shim-Sham, that has become popular around the world, with people of all different ages, classes, cultures, and backgrounds sharing the steps.  “Dance is a connector,” he observed.

As VAM Studios celebrates a year in Fremont, and welcomes new students, they hope to see more in our community come by and learn more.  Visit the VAM Studios website for specific class information, call 206-826-0776 or e-mail info@vamstudios.net, or just stop by for a class and a chance to live the dream of dance, for yourself!

 

 

 


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©2018 Kirby S. Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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