Since 2016, The Pennington Studio has offered dance instruction in a variety of genres, from classes and summer camps to private lessons, taught by experienced professional dancers-turned-educators.
It all started when owner and artistic director Dawn Cargiulo Berman learned a long-running local dance studio had closed. “I saw it as an opportunity to fulfill that dream of owning my own business,” she recalls.
The Pennington Studio staff indicate they focus on dance technique, classroom etiquette, community collaboration and performance, and the development of students’ inner artist and voice.
With classes taught by highly-trained instructors -- all with professional dance experience and degrees in dance performance or instruction -- the Studio aims “to expose students to the art form and to develop artists.” Along with providing a strong technical foundation, The Pennington Studio team focuses on students' mental, emotional and physical well-being through the medium of dance.
In doing so, expectations are high but realistic, says Dawn, who explains how instruction is tailored to each individual child, as much as possible, with their strengths kept in the foreground in an effort to provide positive experiences.
Dawn says her main goal for The Pennington Studio is to provide a foundation for professional dance. Whether or not students ever become professional dancers, by working through the program, they learn soft skills, including dedication, initiative, group accountability and creative problem-solving.
"While students are exposed to dance competitions from time to time, the emphasis is on diligence, personal expression and development – not perfection," she adds.
The Studio staffers focus on ballet, contemporary and jazz, though recreational dance classes are offered to provide young dancers the opportunity to explore different forms, including hip-hop, acrobatics and lyrical.
Currently, The Pennington Studio is wrapping up its summer camps, which provide opportunities for students of all levels and abilities to either refine their dance skills or expose themselves to dance training for the first time, says Dawn. Additionally, the Studio hosts year-round birthday parties, which include some dance instruction followed by free time for cake and gifts.
Those who wish to commit to more rigorous dance training enroll in the CORE Program, which consists of required classes that teach all aspects of technique, choreography and improvisation. Students also learn to adapt to different types of performance environments, from street performances to commercial performances, such as film. Student dancers in the CORE program perform in local community productions, competitions and the annual Spring Dance Concert.
Registration is open for Pennington Studio fall classes. Options include recreational classes, the ABC Preschool Dance program and Kinderdance for younger kids, drop-in classes for adults, and the CORE program.
As The Pennington Studio has evolved, Dawn says they've chosen to focus on “what [they’re] most passionate about.” This includes special performances, including season-ending performances at Pennington Day and the Memorial Day Parade, and collaborations with nonprofit organizations. Over the years, they've partnered with the Hopewell Valley Arts Council for events, such as the Amazing Pumpkin Carve and Color Run and with the Pennington Public Library to promote a national reading initiative called The Big Read.
Around Halloween, jazz students have the opportunity to appear in a dance film inspired by Michael Jackson’s iconic zombie music video, Thriller. For the film, students perform in small groups with different parts of Pennington as their backdrop. And, during the holidays, all students have the opportunity to perform in a nontraditional theater production of the classical ballet The Nutcracker and to dance at the Pennington Holiday Walk.
"This gives students different types of opportunities to perform and enhances their performance experience outside of just the theater setting," Dawn says.
At The Pennington Studio, age is not a limiting factor for those who wish to learn the art of dance. “We offer a variety of adult classes on a weekly basis and work with families to make it possible for students of any age to start dancing,” she says, explaining how she’ll expose these students to the basics by having them act as “helpers” for classes geared for younger students while ensuring they also take classes alongside their peers, at no extra cost.
Something new, which the Studio first experimented with during the pandemic, is highlighting January as “mental health month,” informs Dawn. This programming intersperses meditation practices and breathing exercises with regular class activities, she says, to “provide an opportunity for students to use movement and dance to deal with mental health concerns like anxiety.”
This “compassionate approach” and willingness to work with kids who have special needs, as Dawn explains, may be one reason why The Pennington Studio has received such positive feedback from the community.
“I’m lucky to have such lovely parents. I’ve had some amazing feedback,” she says, adding, “I love getting to know my students through their hard work, dedication, and expression through dance.”