When the curtain goes down at Proctors on the Orlando School of Dance students this weekend, it’ll mark the end of an era in the local dance community.
After 68 years, the Scotia-based school will be closing its doors following Saturday’s recital. Rather than hosting a closing celebration, the studio is focusing on the recital, which will be the first traditional recital students have had since the start of the pandemic.
“The celebration for us is that all these kids get to be back there on the Proctors stage because no matter whether you dance again in the future or not, . . . that memory of being on that historical stage is something that people will always remember and we’ve been blessed for decades now to do our big year-end show at Proctors,” said co-owner Debra Ann Pigliavento.
They’re calling the recital, which is slated for 6 p.m. Saturday, “New Beginnings.”
“It’s a good send-off. [We’re] focusing on the positive or new beginning as opposed to an ending,” added sister and co-owner Michele Pigliavento.
The school was founded in 1954 by Orlando and Eleaner Pigliavento. They ran it mostly out of their home on State Street while raising their five children. Orlando also juggled a job as an elementary school teacher in Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
“We would help in the studio that was attached to our house back then,” Michele said. “My mom would teach, my dad would nap because he’d just gotten home from teaching elementary school. And then my mom would come out of the studio, my dad would go in and she’d cook for an hour. Everything stopped at 6. We sat down and had dinner. Everything got back [up and running] at 6:30. The kids cleaned up, the parents went back in the studio until 8:30 or 9, and that was our life.”
Debra and Michele took over the business in the 1990s after successful careers on Broadway. After getting her degree from SUNY Geneseo, Michele went on to perform in seven Broadway shows, including “Woman of the Year,” “Mamie,” “Anything Goes,” “Gypsy,” “A Chorus Line” and others. Debra got her degree from Indiana University School of Music and went on to tour with the Lexington Ballet Company and later performed in both the Broadway and touring productions of “Hello, Dolly!” followed by the touring production of “A Chorus Line,” and “42nd Street,” among others.
In 2019, after spending 60 years on State Street in Schenectady, they moved the studio to Mohawk Avenue in Scotia. Many of their Schenectady/Niskayuna students followed and they gained a few more from the Scotia area.
Then the pandemic hit and they had to navigate through constantly changing protocols and hybrid classes.
“We were very proud of how we navigated it,” Debra said.
However, the pandemic did make them consider their future.
“What COVID did for us was just kind of reevaluate our own personal priorities,” Debra said. “I’ve literally been working . . . as a professional dancer for 46 years, my sister [has] for 44 years.”
There are other things they want to explore in the ensuing years; Michele wants to travel and Debra is interested in everything from writing to volunteering.
“It was not an easy decision. It was a decision we discussed for quite a while,” Debra said.
They got the blessing from their father, who they said completely understood.
“What my parents created here . . . they never were thinking of this longevity when they went into it,” Debra said.
“They couldn’t in their wildest imagination imagine it going on for so long,” Michele said.
They credit the longevity in part to their father’s philosophy.
“We kept the same formula that my dad had. It never changed. We have always been a family business,” Debra said.
Like a family
The studio has always felt like a family for Niskayuna resident Kelyn Petrie Snyder, who has spent hundreds — if not thousands — of hours at Orlando School of Dance.
Starting at the age of 8, she took lessons from Eleaner and then from Debra and Michele. She also assisted with classes as she became a more experienced dancer, and even after she went on to college and got a full-time job as a teacher, she returned for classes.
“It’s something that you felt was just always going to be there,” Snyder said.
She’s been taking her 5-year-old daughter to the studio for lessons for the last two years and continues to take an adult tap class that has become a stress reliever and supportive community.
“I need my group of women. It was a really great mental stress break with people that I grew up with. People who knew me. People who you didn’t really have to explain yourself. You just showed up on Saturday and it was like riding a bike,” Snyder said.
She’s not quite sure where she and her daughter will go to dance after the studio closes but she will stay connected with Debra and Michele.
“Even though it’s definitely sad that they’re leaving and that the program’s closing [and] I’m sad for my kids that they can’t experience what I did . . . they’re family and they always treated the studio like a family. So you know it’s never going to really be gone,” Synder said.
They’re not the only second-generation family the studio’s had through the years. Scotia resident Sharon MacNeil took jazz and ballet lessons with Eleaner when she was a child and into her teen years. She started bringing her daughter Audrey to the studio about nine years ago.
“They have high expectations. They care about their students and their well-being as well as their dance careers,” MacNeil said. “They really hold them to a high standard of quality and they provide a nice community.”
MacNeil appreciates the fact that the school wasn’t focused on competition and said that the studio’s closing leaves a huge hole in the dance community for students interested in pursuing a career in dance or theater.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have Broadway stars in our backyard providing such a great dance home for the girls and boys,” MacNeil said.
Notes to students
This week, as the students prepare for the recital, the Pigliaventos plan to deliver handwritten notes to each of their students.
“It was emotional to write,” Debra said. “Some of them have been here since they were 4 and they’re 17 and 18. I noticed two major things I could not say in the notes because that’s what would trigger my own emotion; I couldn’t say the word ‘goodbye’ and I couldn’t say, ‘I’ll miss you.’ ”
Over the years, they’ve kept in touch with so many of their students, some of whom have gone on to have careers in the arts, including Clifton Park native Connor Gallagher, who has choreographed national touring productions of Broadway shows as well as “Beetlejuice,” which opened on Broadway in 2019. They’ve also taught Niskayuna native Gabriella Pizzolo, who has performed in “Matilda the Musical,” “Fun Home.” More recently she’s been featured in Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
“We’ve had so many talented students that have gone on to do big things,” Debra said.
Michele added that they’re equally proud of their students who go on to be teachers, pharmacists, yoga instructors, etc.
“I’ve had people over the years thinking of taking their child to dance and . . . they [ask us] ‘how many people have you gotten on Broadway?’ And we can name a few. But that is not how we measure the level of success,” Debra said. “The lessons from dance, because of the kind of discipline it is, can last a lifetime, which is what my dad always set up as part of our mission statement.”
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday
MORE INFO: proctors.org