Bernie Van Epps ’01 was recently featured in a Daily Messenger article about her work as owner of the Canandaigua Dance Studio, through which she found her passion.
“Just being able to have my students pass me, to be better than me, is really thrilling,” she is quoted in the article.
She is about to move the dance studio to the Greater Canandaigua Family YMCA as part of that organization’s $7 million renovation project. While the move was in large part due to the economic downturn, the article refers to Van Epps as “upbeat,” noting “She sees the change as an opportunity to continue teaching holistic-minded dance, as she has for decades.
A lifelong dancer trained in both classical and contemporary styles – her hip-hop moves earned her the nickname ‘funky diva’ – she brings anatomy, nutrition, even history into her classes. She incorporates educational techniques she honed while earning her bachelor’s degree in dance education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”
Van Epps earned her B.A. in dance and minored in psychology at William Smith College.
The Daily Messenger article follows.
‘Miss Bernie’ to bring her dance moves to the YMCA
Margaret Poe • staff writer •March 28, 2009
Canandaigua, N.Y. –
To Bernie Van Epps, there’s nothing like watching a student do a double pirouette en pointe.
The tricky ballet move, in which a dancer spins two rotations on the tips of the toes, takes years of practice. For many local dancers, those years are spent at Van Epps’ side.
Van Epps, who owns the Canandaigua Dance Studio, never became a professional dancer, as she dreamed. But in teaching, she found her passion.
“Just being able to have my students pass me, to be better than me, is really thrilling,” she said.
The Canandaigua native has taught dance – from classical ballet to tap, jazz to hip-hop – for 28 years. Her students followed her between several studios until she arrived at her current location on County Road 10.
Now, Van Epps, 52, is preparing for yet another move. This summer, she will pack up her dance music, full-length mirrors and wooden flooring and move everything to a new studio at the Greater Canandaigua Family YMCA, at 32 N. Main St. It’s a chance to ditch some of the stress that accompanied small business ownership, said Van Epps – and focus on what she really loves to do: teach dance.
The YMCA hasn’t offered many dance classes in the past, said Director Laurie O’Shaughnessy, because it never had adequate space. Thanks to the $7 million renovation under way, which will overhaul the wellness center, pool, locker rooms and parking facilities, the Y can finally add a designated dance studio, she said. The director said she’s excited to have an instructor of Van Epps’ caliber.
Van Epps isn’t new to the Y. She currently works in the facility’s child care program, and she directed several of the Y’s spring musicals in past years.
The YMCA construction is slated to be done in July, and Van Epps plans to offer dance camps there this summer. Regular classes will begin in September.
The move, she said, was largely prompted by the economic downturn. This year, she has about 85 students enrolled in classes; in the past, she has had more than 250 students at a time. At least four parents called this year to say they had lost their jobs and had to take their children out of dance classes, she said. Many students, she added, had to limit themselves to just one activity, since their parents couldn’t afford to pay for multiple classes.
But Van Epps is upbeat. She sees the change as an opportunity to continue teaching holistic-minded dance, as she has for decades. A lifelong dancer trained in both classical and contemporary styles – her hip-hop moves earned her the nickname “funky diva” – she brings anatomy, nutrition, even history into her classes. She incorporates educational techniques she honed while earning her bachelor’s degree in dance education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
“Miss Bernie,” as her students call her, dedicates October to the skeletal system, so students know what’s happening as they perform their dance steps. And nutrition is a year-long topic of discussion, as Van Epps, with her approachable, down-to-earth style, attempts to shape girls’ perceptions and body image. It’s a goal she takes seriously, knowing dancers are particularly prone to eating disorders like anorexia.
She urges dancers to focus on wellness – not their appearance. “You need to watch what you eat for your health, not to look skinny,” she said.
Dance history emerges, too, amid pliés and pirouettes. Van Epps tells students, for example, how Hitler fired the renowned choreographer Rudolf Laban after Laban failed to infuse a dance program with enough Nazi propaganda. She often works in historical references to coincide with what kids are learning in school, she said.
And to all her students, from those who haven’t started kindergarten to others approaching high school graduation, she advises them to “open your mind to different things.” It’s a philosophy she lives by.