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Megan’s Dance Academy Sets High Barre For Education

If you walk into the studio at Megan’s Dance Academy, you’ll be greeted with the standards—a gleaming wood floor, mirror that stretches along the wall, a metal barre. But there’s a few things that set this Hicksville dance studio apart, that go beyond the furnishings and into the heart and soul of the business.

Studio owner Megan O’Toole, 29, along with her sister, Mary-Kate, who serves as the school’s artistic director, are passionate about making sure students aren’t focused on competition; rather, the school fosters an environment on learning about the art of dance, an aspect they feel often gets neglected.

“We’re trying to focus on the passion and educational aspect of dance, compared to the competitiveness of it,” said Megan. “I want students to have fun, not be stressed out because they have a competition.”

Mary-Kate and Megan O'Toole
Mary-Kate and Megan O’Toole

A dancer since age 3, Megan had always dreamed of opening her own studio and spent the last 14 years teaching at various studios, including Ella Marie School of Dance. It was a tragic accident that spurred her to finally act on her dreams.

“My younger brother got badly burned in a fire. Seventy percent of his body was burned,” Megan said. “After seeing him be in the hospital for three months, I realized you need to follow your dreams and do what’s best for you. There’s no better time than today because you never know.”

Family support has played a vital role in the studio’s success. Her sister is by her side as artistic director, and their mom works the front desk while their dad does behind the scenes work. And the family bonds trickle down to the students as well, Megan said.

“That dance family aspect is huge and the kids feel like family,” Megan said. “With my students, they know they have my support and some of them call me their dance mom.”

Many of Megan’s students followed her from other studios and have supported her as she undertakes this new journey. It’s been a huge encouragement for Megan, who opened her studio in October.

Education , not competition, is the focus at Megan's Dance Academy
Education , not competition, is the focus at Megan’s Dance Academy

Megan noted that she tries to keep classes fresh and new, with a young perspective. The studio offers tap, jazz, ballet, and lyrical/contemporary dance classes, putting the focus on educating students. A dance major at Hofstra, Mary-Kate said her classes showed her that dance is not only performing, but understanding one’s body better. Reinforcing the ballet technique helps students understand how to stand properly, as well as what muscles need to be stretched and strengthened, she said.

“All of this will help dancers avoid injuries,” Mary-Kate said. “When the focus becomes on just doing impressive tricks, the chance for injury is much higher.”
And as technique gets better, confidence grows.

“They learn the proper way to do certain things and are proud of themselves when they remember it and work on it,” Mary-Kate said. “They feel that they are more educated and can make decisions on their own without constantly needing my guidance. Hopefully this will push them to become an independent dancer and want to continue dancing when they are older.”

In addition to dance classes for youngsters, Megan also offers fitness dance classes for adults on Tuesday nights. The Dance Blast classes provide a fun alternative for adults looking to shake off some extra pounds and stress.

Students are like family at Megan's Dance Academy
Students are like family at Megan’s Dance Academy

“After a while the gym gets boring. You need to find something you love and that’s healthy, and to combine them together is perfect,” Megan said.

While the studio is only three months old, there have been plenty of rewarding moments along the way.

“One little three year old girl who signed up had some hearing impairments and medical issues. To see her starting in October not knowing anything about dance, and working with her one on one to see a huge improvement is one of the best feelings as a person and a teacher,” Megan said. “Some might take years, for some it might click in a week, but my goal is to help these children.”

Megan’s Dance Academy is at 940 S. Broadway in Hicksville. For more information call 516-513-0740.

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Betsy Abraham is the former senior managing editor at Anton Media Group and editor of The Westbury Times and Massapequa Observer. She also wrote for Long Island Weekly.

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