B y Todd Michaelsen
My mother, Connie Michaelsen, has been teaching dance in Granville now for 26 years. She has shared her joy and passion with over 1,000 students in that time span. In an era when “Mom and Pop” small businesses are vastly disappearing, she has grown her dance school nearly every year since her first in 1987. And the community is better off for that. Kids have another outlet outside of school and sports in which they can learn an art form, express themselves and have fun doing it. The annual dance recital in June offers proud parents and friends a night to celebrate a year’s worth of hard work. I can remember as a high school student helping my father work the sound and pulling the curtain for the shows. The dressing rooms would be filled with volunteer “stage moms” who helped organize the chaos of makeup, costumes, and hair. After the show our house was always filled with flowers, cards and baskets. Families and students truly appreciate my mom’s dedication to them. Whenever you are out and about in Granville with my mom you always see smiles and hear “Hello Mrs. Connie!” from little ones and parents. I asked my mom what her biggest fulfillment of her business was and she simply replied “I get to share my joy of dance with others and try to make it fun to learn at the same time”.
My mom grew up in Utica, N.Y. and started taking dance class in first grade. She took ballet, tap and jazz. And she hasn’t stopped dancing to this day. In high school she joined the prestigious entertainment group called The Rhythm Lights. They performed at various functions and fundraisers in the state. She got the opportunity to perform in front of Danny Thomas, the famous actor and founder of St. Jude’s Hospital at a fundraiser in Utica. She shook Bobby Kennedy’s hand after a performance for a Democratic Fundraiser in 1968 just weeks before his death. As just a sophomore in high school she was recruited to become a Rockette and was urged to move to New York City. She opted to stay in Utica and finish her schooling. Her life as a teacher actually began in high school when she filled in for her own instructors from time to time. She attended SUNY Potsdam and majored in math with a minor in dance, and continued to learn more about her craft. She especially fell in love with modern dance as it afforded the dancer a more personal creativity.
In 1985 my father, Don Michaelsen, was transferred by the phone company from Westchester County to upstate. My parents had a choice of a number of area towns, but a colleague told them Granville was the best place in the area to raise a family. I would agree they chose wisely. I was five and my sister, Lyndsey, was four. And as we entered Granville Elementary School, my mother began to contemplate starting a business of her own. In the autumn of 1986 she launched her dance school out of a small church basement on Church Street, and through word of mouth expanded her classes to all ages and levels. I can vividly remember the hours she poured in over her Sony cassette player in the living room choreographing for all her various classes. It was truly a labor of love and still is a big part of our family’s identity. Whenever I come home now to visit I still hear her working on her dance steps in the living room.
Her praises goes beyond just her biased and proud son. Former student and GHS grad Rebecca Kennedy Jones recalls “I remember her as always patient, kind and gentle with a group of crazy girls. She went above and beyond. I even remember her sewing our ballet costumes by hand, herself. She was a great teacher to so many Granville youngsters and deserves recognition for being a town icon.” And Julie Campbell Taylor’s four-year-old daughter Paige told her mom “I love her, l love her! She makes the music work with a remote. She is magical.”
But my mom will be the first to tell you she does not do this for the praise and admiration. She genuinely loves dance and wants to pass that on to others. She had great teachers growing up but also had a few that were too rigid and strict with her. She wants to make learning fun and empower her students with the freedom and understanding to express themselves.
I originally intended to write this article for her 25th year but I lost track of the exact years. Her 26th dance recital is this Friday night at the GHS auditorium and she is showing no signs of slowing down. She is already planning her next season starting this September. I just want to extend my congrats to a great mom and great teacher that truly has been a gem in this community for many