MONTVILLE, NJ - It was quite obvious that at the grand opening of Montville Township’s Studio J Dance Academy, everyone acquainted with Jessica Mellace, owner and artistic director, admired her for her ability to have a dream and make it come true. But more importantly, they admired her for her welcoming, loving and caring nature, as was demonstrated at the event last Saturday night. 

The grand opening not only included great entertainment and food, but a fundraiser for St. Barnabas Burn Unit. Mellace explained, “St. Barnabas has been part of my life since I began working professionally as an x-ray tech in 2011. It was one of the first jobs I took in my field, so it holds a special place in my heart. Additionally, and the reason I chose to do my grand opening in December was because in 1992 Michael, my brother,was admitted to the St. Barnabas Pediatric Burn Unit on Christmas. He was there for a month, and the nurses and doctors took such great care of him. I wanted to give back to the organization that has provided me and my family with so much.”

Her brother, Michael, said, “I am so proud my sister is following her dream. If anyone is meant to do this, it’s Jessica. I know Studio J will be a huge success! My sister, choosing to help St. Barnabas Pediatric Burn Unit, means a lot to me because I was admitted there on Christmas 1992. I was 14 months old and was there for a month. Even though I don’t remember the experience all too well, my parents told me how amazing the nurses and doctors were with me. I am truly grateful for all the people at St. Barnabas who assisted in my recovery, and I am happy my family and I can give back.”

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Anthony Marchitto, acting teacher, stated, “Studio J is a place of nurturing and support, so having the grand opening benefit the pediatric burn unit was the perfect way to start the holiday season. I had so much fun singing carols with some of our students, and I think the event was a success.”

Mellace explained, "Opening up a dance studio has always been a dream of mine. I wanted my studio to be a place where students can find who they are and express their individuality. I am so lucky that I get to share my passion for the arts and can’t believe my dream has finally come true. None of this would have been possible without the love and support from my wonderful family, staff and students."   

Mellace was honored and happy to have her almost 100 year old grandmother present at this dream come true event. Josephine Mellace will be 100 years old in three months. Josephine said she “always encouraged Jessica” to pursue her ambitions.

Mellace’s parents, Anna Marie and Joseph Mellace, said that they are so very proud of their daughter who “had a dream and did it.” They also recognized Dr. Hani Mansour and Dr. Sylvia Petrone for their dedication to the St. Barnabas Burn Unit. Hot coffee had spilled on their son on Christmas 1992 and caused severe burns. Anna Marie admits they took their son to St. Barnabas because it was the closest hospital, but they were so thankful when they found out that the hospital had a special burn unit. All the doctors and nurses gave so much of themselves, and the entire family is very grateful.

Studio J opened its doors in September at 2 Changebridge Road and currently has 36 students and is growing weekly. The studio offers classes starting from 15 months to adult. Classes are offered in acting, acro, ballet, contemporary/lyrical, hip-hop, Irish step, jazz, mommy and me, musical theatre, tap and voice.Starting in January, there will be adult classes in ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop.

Donna Hahn, mother of Studio J student, Angelina Hahn, said the studio is a “triple threat” by offering dance, acting, and voice. “Her new business represents what Jessica is all about. She believes in giving back to the community. Jessica is not only talented but keeps kids focused so that they can learn a lot. She is a great teacher,” added Hahn.

The parents of student, Isabelle Belenky, Angela and Stan, were happy to be at the performance saying, “This is such a good activity for the kids, and they love to be here.”

The night of entertainment included the singing of Deck the Halls, Hanukkah O Hanukkah, Let It Snow, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, O Holy Night, It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, and a duet of Baby, It’s Cold Outside. 

The performance team danced to My Only Wish, Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree, Hanukkah O Hanukkah, Let It Snow and Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.

When asked why she chose Montville for her new studio, Mellace said, “Although I didn’t grow up in town, my hometown of East Hanover is just a short drive away. I’ve always attended iconic Montville events like the 4th of July celebration and fireworks, and the community always made me feel welcomed. When I decided to open up Studio J, I knew that Montville would be the perfect fit because it aligns with my values as a business owner.” 

Dance instructor, Alfonse Napolitano, stated, "Studio J is not your typical dance studio. We are a tight-knit family. We care for and love each other, and I am so happy to be a part of this amazing dance family. In addition to this, we spread our love and passion to everyone around us and are so excited to be a part of the Montville community." 

Courtney Serpone, dance and vocal teacher, added, "I think Montville is the perfect fit for Jessica and Studio J. Jessica prides herself on the studio being a place where everyone feels welcomed and successful. She has built a team of staff members that are so diverse, but all work together seamlessly. She is always driven to delivering the best final product, as you will see tonight. Jessica values discipline and hard work. I know this is the beginning of a wonderful partnership!”  

Lisa LoPinto, dance teacher, added, "Studio J has become like a second home to me. Teaching acrobatics here is always the highlight of my week. The students and staff are all such wonderful people. Jessica has done an incredible job of turning the dance studio into a positive, fun and educational environment."​                   

Dance teacher, Dana DelGrosso, is very proud of the studio’s students. “They performed beyond our expectations and really made the night something we will never forget! We also were able to give back this year and raise money to bring happiness and cheer to some of the children in the pediatric burn unit at St. Barnabas Hospital. It has been an all-around amazing evening,and I’m very proud of my Studio J family," said DelGrosso.

Students like Roahan Padmanabahan expressed support. Padmanabahan said, “Studio J is a safe and welcoming place for dancers and performers everywhere. It has given me, along with my team, a place to do what we love with our art. Miss Jess and all of my other teachers have created an environment where everyone can express themselves and reach their full potential. Studio J will forever be a home away from home for me, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings!”

Padmanabahan’s parents, Anju and Krishnan, expressed their happiness for Miss Jess and the group. Anju said her son goes to Studio J classes five days a week and loves it. “He enjoys every minute,” she said.

Another student, Angelina Hahn stated, “Studio J is a great school with great people who actually want you to succeed and help you achieve all of your goals. I am happy to be a part of this amazing family!” Hahn was accepted to Morris County School of Technology for dance and theater being one of 16 accepted out of 120 applications.

Former student, Nina DaCosta, also had praises. “Studio J is an accepting, loving and judge-free studio that has brought new people in with open arms. I have known Miss Jess since I was 12, and she helped me in ways that I did not know were possible," explained DaCosta.

Keli Eason, a former teacher, who worked with Mellace in the past, also came to “support Jess.” Eason said, “This is something Jess wanted to do for a while now.”

Parents, Keira and Glen Pedersen, of one of the youngest children at the studio, two year old Gia Pedersen, also extended their best wishes and stated that their little girl “loves it” at Studio J.

Success is what these performers/students strive to achieve, and most of the students, who performed on this night, have aspirations to perform on Broadway. Following in Miss Jessica’s footsteps, one can say, “Dreams Do Come True!”

Cover photo: Back row from left: Jennifer Dent, Keli Eason, Lisa LoPinto, Alfonse Napolitano, AnnaMarie Mellace, Jessica Mellace, Santa Claus (Joseph Mellace), Anthony Marchitto, Courtney Serpone. Front row from left: Keira Pedersen holding Gia Pedersen, Isabelle Belenky, Angelina Hahn, Roahan Padmanabahan holding Avery Veneziano, Arianna DeMaio, Nina DaCosta holding Maya Ciccone, Dana DelGrosso holding Stella Kokoszka, Jessica Brody.