CHATHAM, NJ – Her husband wanted her to pursue what she loved. The final push came from her daughter.
That’s how “Inner Grace Dance,” now located on Main Street in Chatham, came into being less than two years ago when Connie Jesse finally decided to pursue her lifelong dream and open her own dance studio.
“Part of the reason why this got started is because my daughter loves to dance,” said Jesse, a mother of three and a Chatham resident since 1997.
“She’s not a competitive kid and she needed a place to dance where she could experience the joy of it. Our school is based on the idea that dance is expression through movement and it is a great way for children to feel free and not be self-conscience. I want people to come in and feel the joy of dance and not feel the competiveness. There is an ugly side of this business that people see on Dance Moms. That is not what this studio is about. Our mission is, ‘Building self-esteem through dance.’ ”
Jesse’s instincts about teaching have been validated by a study that links the mental well-being of teenagers to the enjoyment they receive from taking dance classes.
“Shortly after we opened a scientific study was published that proved that girls who have taken dance classes twice a week had better attitudes about their bodies and physical self-perceptions,” Jesse said.
The study was conducted by Anna Duberg of Sweden at the Center for Health and Science. There were 112 girls, ages 13 to 18, in the control group. Half of them were randomly picked to take a 75-minute dance class twice a week for eight months. The study found that 91 percent rated the classes as a positive experience.
The study backs up the approach by Jesse, whose goal is to make it a fun experience for the girls while building self-esteem.
Jesse taught dance in the area for 10 years before she opened Inner Grace in February of 2011 in the ballroom at the Fish & Game Club. Inner Grace moved to its current location at 168 Main Street in January and the intimate setting accommodated 120 students last spring.
“It’s been growing ever since,” Jesse said. “People have commented about what a great feeling it is here; a homey, family-like feeling. There are no divas here.”
Inner Grace held two recitals last year and the testimonials told Jesse that her philosophy in teaching dance is the right one for her students.
“The energy you have, the gift you have with children, I just can’t say more about it. Thank you for sharing your special talents with us.”…Mary Quigley, Principal, Washington Avenue School
“I can’t thank you enough for not only finding a place to hold classes, but for putting on a phenomenal performance! Inner Grace is a place where a group of girls can come and be themselves, develop friendships while having fun doing what they all love ~ dancing.”…Jessie Garreffa.
Part of the family-like atmosphere at Inner Grace is built through the teachers on staff: Jesse herself, Carol Baumgartner, her daughter, Cassandra Baumgartner and Casey Ury.
“We’re all very close friends, kind of like a family at this point,” Jesse said. “We’ve all worked together at other places in the area for 10 years and have grown to understand and accept what we all do best.”
Jesse has another job, too. She works part-time teaching children with dyslexia.
“In addition to teaching dance, for the last four years I have worked with kids who have learning differences,” Jesse said. “I help them with their reading and work with them on their gross motor development. I have been able to integrate that into what I do in the studio.
“Working with the learning challenged kids has taught me how children learn differently and, as a result, I have been able to teach kids in many different ways.”
Jesse would also like to attract dancers who want to take their skill to the next level, but she is content to cater to her philosophy of utilizing dance as a way to build self-esteem.
“One day we hope to have a group who chooses to compete and maybe to take it to the next level,” Jesse said, “but we don’t want that to interfere with the joy they feel while dancing.”
“I had a registration today from someone who said my daughter is shy, she’s afraid. She had heard from somebody else that our studio would be a great place to bring her because ‘I heard you’re great with children.’ The word is getting around that we’re going to work with your child so that they want to come to class and learn to dance.”
Inner Grace is accepting registrations for classes that begin Sept. 9. Anyone who registers by Aug. 31 will receive a free piece dance attire from Inner Grace. Call 201-274-6660 or go to the website: www.innergracedance.com
The dance courses offered at Inner Grace include: Tiny Tippy Toe Tutus; Dance Combo; Advanced Dance Combo; Mini Hip Hop/Acro; Hip Hop; Jazz technique/Hip Hop Crew; Lyrical/Acro; Hip Hop Jazz Movement; Lyrical/Hip Hop Jazz; Lyrical Technique/Crew; Tumbling Jazz; Stretch and Strength.
“I guess my husband realized what made me happy before I did because he planted the seed in my head years ago,” Jesse said. “Maybe I was too young to know that what was going to make me happy was the thing I loved the most when I was growing up. Dancing is where I am content and belong.”
There are many ways to be graceful and Jesse is trying her best to not only show through example on the dance floor, but in how she teaches her students as well.
Inner Grace is an advertiser with TAP Chatham. For information on how to advertise contact Ed Barmakian at firstname.lastname@example.org.