“Someone will say to me, “Look at what you have done with the school,” And I'll reply, “What do you mean?” We just do what we do here. But I do feel huge pride when I see the children's joy, and then watch them go on to fulfil their dreams.”
Jeannine Belliston, Founder of the Belliston Dance Academy.
You don't run a successful dance academy for 35 years and see more than 10,000 children pass through your doors without a huge amount of drive, vision and passion. Jeannine Belliston has all those qualities and many more.
A natural dancer from the age of four, Jeannine is now mom to seven grown up children of her own, but they were tiny when she first held dance classes at her home.
“I kept taking classes here and there and continued to study the art of dance. Then as my children got a little older I looked around for where I could put them in a school but couldn't find anything, so I decided to teach them myself.”
Soon the entire neighborhood were lining up outside her door eager to be taught by her, and as her reputation grew, it became obvious that she needed to find bigger premises.
“Running the classes from home was fun and exciting but the numbers grew quickly. The kids were happy and the parents were happy, so almost immediately I could see the benefit to the community. It was very motivating.”
Jeannine leased a property in a strip mall but that first location didn't have the atmosphere or energy she was looking for. However, another building in Littleton soon caught her eye...
“I started to sit outside of a particular vacant building on Coal Mine Avenue wishing I could have that space. I did that for a while. I'd sit there in my car dreaming of what I could do with it,” she explains. “There was something about the property that seemed a good fit. I approached the leaseholders and asked if they would consider leasing to me. Initially they didn't want to but I persisted and eventually bought the building. We've now been here for 27 years.”
The space, which boasts four studios and its own swimming pool, is now a firm fixture in the community and that's just how Jeannine likes it.
Her vision, born 35 years ago, to impart her specialist knowledge to a new generation has grown into something truly special. She has seen second and more recently, third generations of children, come to Belliston for dance lessons.
Her son Aaron, who now runs the business, says, “I have great pride as her son. Watching kids come back a few years later when they are doctors or lawyers and listening to them talk about their success being attributable to the lessons they learned in their little dance class, makes me burst with pride.”
Never one to boast, Jeannine is quietly delighted with the school's reputation and also the impact it has had on her hometown and many individuals. Her daughter Leah and son Seth both went on to be professional dancers, and other students have become Rockettes, and danced for the San Francisco Ballet and Miami City Ballet.
Leah, who danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, in Seattle, for 11 years and toured the UK, Australia and Asia, now runs the school's day to day affairs and Leah's young son – a keen sportsman – attends ballet classes to improve his agility and fitness.
“As a former professional dancer, I love that there is no compromise for quality, that standards are adhered to over profit”, says Leah. “Jeannine's core values such as accountability, follow through, tenacity and self confidence are very important to us and to the organization.”
For Jeannine, a dedicated mother of seven – and an inspiration to 10,000 other young dreamers – her work and devotion to dance continues.
“I love the feeling of community that we have within our walls. There is a true sense of family that has developed over the years. Many students are with us for ten to 15 years and develop lifelong friendships. They come to us at three- years-old and attend each other's weddings years later. It's incredible to watch.”
Jeannine's goal – with the help of her family - is to continue to build upon the Academy's robust curriculum, and offer a safe and joyous place for kids who like to dance for fun, as well as a program that caters to students who want to pursue dance as a career.
“When we did our first little show at the High School 35 years ago, I saw everybody up there on stage and thought, 'Wow, this is cool,'” she says. “And you know what, it still is.”