Photo: Pictured above, Kay Smith-Foster smiles in her new dance studio in Glencoe.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
When Kay Smith-Foster opened her studio doors on August 4, an outpouring of eager dancers of all ages flooded inside.
At 524 West Main Street in Glencoe, the Kay Smith School of Performing Arts welcomes all interested in dance to experience an environment that celebrates expression and artistry, led by a woman whose life-long relationship with dance fosters confidence, encouragement and inspiration.
“I love everything about dance,” said Smith-Foster. “I love the performance, I love the challenge of learning new things and keeping up to date with dance styles…it’s in my blood, I guess. My husband laughs at me, [because whenever] music will come on the TV, my feet are usually moving! It’s just in you. It just happens.”
Smith-Foster’s love for dance began at three years old, when her parents enrolled her in lessons with Charlie Lockmiller. Smith-Foster described Lockmiller as akin to Fred Astaire, an accomplished dancer with a niche for tap and a belief in transforming every routine into a Broadway production.
Before long, the bug bit her, and Smith-Foster began taking every class Lockmiller offered.
“When everyone else was getting a piano, I thought ‘Oh. Maybe I need to get a piano,’” said Smith-Foster. “My mother said, ‘Well, you’ve got to take piano lessons if you get a piano.’ So, I said, ‘Can I just take another dance class? Forget the piano!’”
Smith-Foster danced her way to New York when she was a junior and senior in high school, studying dance at an international dance studio in the heart of the city. Smith-Foster remembered the days when the auditorium at Carnegie Hall was left open for the dancers to practice on stage, reminiscing about how majestic and ornate the Manhattan venue was. Though Smith-Foster never danced for an audience at Carnegie Hall, she noted that dancing on the stage alone was enough.
While in New York, Smith-Foster imagined herself as a Rockette, securing an audition with the dance company. However, after going through the interview process, Smith-Foster learned that most of The Rockettes worked multiple jobs to support themselves and danced for fun. Inspired to take another route in life, Smith-Foster returned to Auburn University to perform as a majorette.
At Auburn, Smith-Foster acquired her B.S. in Elementary Education and later earned her M.S. in Student Personnel Guidance and Counseling from Jacksonville State University, and opened her first dance school in Alabama City. She later served as Gadsden State Community College’s Marketing and Public Relations Director, coordinating student activities and working with all departments.
Smith-Foster’s love of dance followed her at Gadsden State, where she worked with the Southern Belles, choregraphing and directing the college’s Christmas Showcase. But when the opportunity arose for Smith-Foster to open a studio in Glencoe, she could not resist.
“I was very blessed and I loved my time at Gadsden State,” said Smith-Foster. “I had a dance line there, but I still missed [teaching] my kids. That’s what led me back to this [dance school] right here [in Glencoe]. There’s just something about seeing the kids dance and the kids progress…it’s rewarding and fun! It’s like a calling – it feels right.”
Smith-Foster’s school in Glencoe will offer classes for children, teenagers and adults at each level of difficulty and physical ability. From ages three to 103, students will participate in a variety of classes geared towards accomplishing certain personal goals. Rather than focus on one specific type of dance, students will learn several routines and rhythm-building exercises in a light-hearted, encouraging environment.
“It was the philosophy that I had before,” said Smith-Foster. “I taught combination classes from my three-year-olds on up, but my high school and college kids normally wanted to do one or two [specialties]. Really I think the younger ones need to experience all four – tap, jazz, ballet and baton – because it’s intertwined. You don’t just twirl; you dance while you’re twirling. You don’t just do ballet; there’s jazz, and tap is such a good coordination. I like for [my students] to have a sampling of all.”
For women who are unfamiliar with dance, have physical limitations or are not accustomed to exercising every day, Smith-Foster offers beginner classes where students use chairs to create stability. While Smith-Foster emphasized the importance of maintaining flexibility and balance in the body and dance’s role in that, she also addressed the cognitive benefits of dance. Studies have shown that a combination of movement and learning dance steps blends physical and mental exercise, keeping minds sharp and bodies healthy. In addition, dance serves as an effective method for relieving stress.
“Dance is therapeutic,” said Smith-Foster. “I think the combination of music (because music is therapeutic in itself) and actually a physical outlet washes all your troubles right away. It’s a good match. It’s worked for me for years!”
Though Smith-Foster maintains a strong relationship with all forms of dance, she does have her own personal preferences. The rhythmic challenges of tap were her favorite, and she enjoyed listening to a passage and trying to mimic the steps from the sound. Smith-Foster noted that tap is a noise expression, and a great way for kids to keep track of their own progress, because they can hear and feel when they accomplish a routine successfully.
Expression and progression waltz hand-in-hand for Smith-Foster’s students. She provides equal opportunity for them to express themselves creatively as she encourages their improvement in dance. For her young students, she offers free time at the end of class where they can wear sunglasses to make them feel uninhibited and express themselves however they choose. This opportunity to freestyle without the pressure of performing ‘correctly’ nurtures a valuable trait that Smith-Foster hopes her classes teach most of all.
“I hope my students gain confidence from my classes,” said Smith-Foster. “I hope they gain flexibility and learning rhythms too, but confidence is a trait they’ll carry throughout the whole rest of their lives. Confidence in job interviews, confidence on stage with a speech [is so important]. Maybe they’re valedictorian and they’re really smart, but they never had an opportunity to be in front of people on a stage. These dancers have. They’ve experienced things like that, and it really helps. It goes hand in hand with whatever they aspire to be.”
Smith-Foster’s resume is embellished with dance. From teaching choreography for both Auburn and Jacksonville State Ballerinas to directing the Gadsden State Community College Southern Belles for 35 years, her passion intertwines with her profession throughout each stage of her life. The Kay Smith School of Performing Arts proves no different, with Smith-Foster’s dedication to her students and adoration for dance etched into each corner. As her students grow and flourish, Smith-Foster cheers them on and nudges them toward success, one standing ovation at a time.
“The enjoyment of seeing [my students] excel [is what I love most about teaching],” said Smith-Foster. “Seeing all my students improve and seeing them accomplish certain goals [is so rewarding] and I set goals for every one of them. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity. I think it’s something that my friends, husband and family all said I can do it. I’m really hoping I have a few more years to share.”