Gotta Dance Studio and Company has been part of the Central Oregon landscape for 15 years, and Michelle Mejaski has been the face and driving force behind it since the inception. Hundreds of men, women and children have learned jazz, tap, hip-hop, and contemporary dance from the Gotta Dance team over the years.
Recently Mejaski sold Gotta Dance in order to focus mostly on choreography for live musical theater, a growing demand as more musicals are mounted each year in Central Oregon. Mejaski chatted with us recently about her history with dance, the future of Gotta Dance, and the rewards of teaching.
Source Weekly: Tell me a little about your history with dance.
Michelle Mejaski: I started dancing when I was four years old. The two studios I studied in until I was 18 were Dixon Dance and On Your Toes in Indianapolis, where my husband and I are from. I went to smaller, non-competition studios, and at age 14, my tap and jazz instructor said she couldn't challenge me any more as a dancer and asked me if I'd like to train as a teacher and choreographer.
SW: So you went right into instruction?
MM: I instructed teen and adult tap classes the next dance year. I loved teaching and choreographing; I knew it was what I wanted to do. I majored at Ball State University in graphic arts, and was fortunate to be accepted to their dance program which allowed me to train in dance without it being my major. I got involved in the dance community as an instructor and choreographer in Bend as soon as my husband and I moved here in 1997.
SW: And you instantly knew you wanted to open a studio?
MM: I began at Bend's Summerfest in 2001 with dear friends Carolyn and Thomas Tsuneta. Carolyn and I danced on a piece of plywood as Thomas played bass. Next to us was a sandwich board offering dance lessons by Gotta Dance. One move, three dance floors, and 15 years later, here I am.
SW: What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of teaching?
MM: The rewards that I get from teaching are beyond words. It's students making up their own nicknames for me, the hugs and the I love you's and the inside jokes. And it's things that reduce me to tears like parents telling me that the child used to not talk to other kids, or they used to stutter, or that they never have seen them more confident in themselves.
SW: What inspired you to make the sale?
MM: I decided to sell the studio because I am too busy with everything. It is too much for me to run the office, the books, the phone calls, emails, the costuming... everything about the studio while at the same time trying to teach to the best of my ability and inspire and mentor dancers while choreographing a musical. I knew I had to pick and choose what I wanted to do. And what I want to do is teach and choreograph.
SW: Who did you sell the studio to?
MM: I sold the studio to friends, Sean and Brandi Nichols. Brandi has been a member of the Gotta Dance staff teaching lyrical, jazz, and tap for the past five years.
SW: Will Gotta Dance stay mostly unchanged aside from your (obviously massive) absence?
MM: The atmosphere, feel and the love of Gotta Dance will not be changing. Brandi is going to run the studio with care and support. I would only sell Gotta Dance to someone who I trusted with that. The current staff, including myself, will all be instructing next year. The changes that will be made are more cosmetic ones. The walls will be painted, new floors will be installed, and Brandi will give the studio her own artistic vision.
SW: How often are you hoping to choreograph per year?
MM: Ideally I would like to choreograph back-to-back productions. The rehearsal to stage time typically is three months, so I would love to be doing four musicals a year. Having a month break or two here and there wouldn't be bad. But I like to keep busy, and I don't even know what I would be doing with myself if I weren't choreographing!
Gotta Dance Studio and Company
917 NE Eighth St., Bend
Visit gottadancestudioandcompany.com for class information