Melanie Useldinger, 53, has been dancing her entire life. At just 16 years of age, she left home to study professionally at San Francisco Ballet, and that was just the beginning of her career as a dancer, instructor and choreographer on both the east and west coasts.
But having five kids meant putting her passion on the backburner a bit, and now that Useldinger's children are grown up, she's making up for lost time.
Useldinger opened Agape Dance Academy at the end of June, and has been thrilled with the enthusiasm of the dancing and learning-to-dance community.
"Just last night I had 27, no 28, people in my adult and teen Advanced Beginners class, it was so much fun," said Useldinger, who has taught dance for more than 30 years.
One thing Useldinger loves about the studio is that people of all ages are able to come and learn how to dance, from pre-kindergarten ages to adults—even if they've never danced a day in their lives.
"I have a real heart for adult dancers, they get good fast because of the cognitive level of the brain. They're flexibility comes slower than a young person, but just like people who do yoga in their fifties and sixties, you can work at being flexible and it will come," said Useldinger.
Useldinger theorizes that part of the strong enthusiasm for dance is that there is more and more of it on TV and in the media, like the dance reality shows that have popped up in the past few years.
"All of a sudden everywhere I went people wanted to be taking classes, and part of me wondered if that's because theres so much dance in the media and people are seeing how beautiful it is," said Useldinger.
The studio features a full calendar of classes ranging from pre-Ballet to Jazz and Pilates Conditioning to all levels of classic Ballet. Two other instructors, Julianna Robert and Theresa Moorleghen also teach classes, and Useldinger also awaits her son's return from Belhaven University so that he can also help teach classes.
Useldinger's goal is to keep classes accessible, affordable, and technically and academically up to par. She also has a greater vission for her dance studio:
"I want our dancers to be dancers, I want them to be great technically but also have a vision of having them give back to the community so it's not all about them, not all about dancing being good for them but really getting out in the community and just sharing their gift," said Useldinger.
In fact, she's already started, and last week she took a small group to a retirement home in Aptos to put on a mini concert of classical and jazz numbers.
Useldinger says she fully supports the second half of the Scotts Valley library being used as a performing arts center, and hopes to begin fundraising to make that happen.
"I could have a full blown Nutcracker," she mused.
For now, she's focusing on living up to the name: Agape is Greek for astounded, amazed, charitible and charitable love.
On September 19, at 3 p.m., Agape Dance will be holding a telent search and audition for a one year full tuition scholarship for one boy and one girl between the ages of 8 and 10. Free! All you have to do is register and show up!
Be sure to check out the Agape Dance Academy website, and remember that the first class is complimentary!