Local Limelight Q&A with Mary McGehee of Smyrna Dancers
Tell us about the clients you serve.
We are most proud of being a community-based program operating in conjunction with the City of Smyrna Parks and Recreation. We’ve had the privilege of working with several thousand students over the past 20 years. This type of outreach has been possible by making every effort to be the affordable alternative for dance instruction in the Smyrna/Vinings area and meeting the needs of all children, youth and adults.
What inspired you to start Smyrna Dancers? It all came together based on my background and my passion [for dance]. My education and early training were in dance and the early part of my career was in business. Smyrna Dancers was the small business I seemed destined to create.
How did you develop your dance skills?
My undergraduate training at the acclaimed Birmingham Southern Dance Program, my masters in Fine Arts at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, my post-graduate training while living in New York City, along with serving as the dance director for VISTA and [serving in] the domestic Peace Corps dance program for the U.S. Virgin Islands, all provided a wonderful background of dance and choreography.
What inspires your work and what sets you apart from everyone else?
After 20 years, I continue to be inspired every time I am inside the studio watching the intense joy of all our students. My inspiration also comes from interaction with the dance parents. Our philosophy is that dance, movement and teamwork are essential learning skills for young children; skills that will help them throughout their lives with poise, confidence, discipline and social interaction.
What has been your biggest challenge since COVID-19?
Covid-19 has upended all of our lives and businesses. We are constantly exploring the challenge of continuing to work with our students in a safe and healthy environment. Online instruction, limited class size, outdoor instruction are a few of the options under review. We will always err on the side of the safety for our dancers, parents and staff. We approach this unprecedented challenge as an opportunity to experiment with creative solutions.
Describe your typical work day.
Because of the uniqueness of each child, no two days are ever the same. I have to say that each day is better because of our great staff headed by Julie Segal, director of Operations and Productions and Anne Marie Tapp, lead instructor, who started with us as a young student and Jodi Mills CPRP, senior recreation coordinator who provides such wonderful support in coordination with the city [of Smyrna].
Which small businesses are you inspired by?
My father founded two very successful small businesses in my hometown of Auburn, AL. His entrepreneurial leadership and customer service qualities are some of my most treasured life lessons and still provide a wonderful how-to guide on business success and how to treat your customers.
What’s your best advice for someone who wants to start their own creative business?
Do it for the love of the everyday activities that it involves. Do it for the non-material rewards as well as the monetary ones and be prepared to work 24/7/365.
What are your plans for the future?
We look to continue the growth of our competitive dance teams and solo performers who have earned high recognition for their talent and hard work. Even after 20 years, my primary goal remains the same as it was when we began to bring joy and learning to as many children as possible.