A Visit with ‘Ms. Carol’ and ‘Ms. Dina’ inside Chappaqua’s Dance Emotions Studio
By Matt Smith
“Not everybody takes dance to become a dancer–and you don’t have to. [Dancing] is fun and healthy for anyone’s body and mind. If you have the desire within you, you shouldn’t be overlooked.”
Such is the reigning philosophy at Dance Emotions, the Chappaqua-based multi-arts studio nestled on the second floor of a professional building in the center of town. With its wide variety of dance and fitness classes–from Zumba, yoga, barre and core workouts, to tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, etc.–the studio prides itself on its inclusivity, opening its classes up to people of all ages, regardless of ability. “[We feel] that everyone is important, and we’re here to give everybody the equal opportunity to develop their skills,” emphasizes Carol Mamara, known affectionately as ‘Ms. Carol’ to students and alumni, and who founded the studio over 30 years ago. “[We’re] a very loving, caring, and accepting place.”
A dancer herself, Mamara trained under ballerina Nina Tinova and famed tap dancer Charles Lowe, to name a few, before heading onto the June Taylor School of Dance and continuing with jazz great Frank Hatchett, among others. She also performed on TV and at such esteemed venues as Carnegie Hall and the Broadway Dance Center.
After moving to the suburbs to raise her family (and while on the Board of the Westchester Dance Council), Mamara sought to create her own company as a way to “bring the professionalism of New York City to Westchester.” She began at a studio in lower Westchester, but felt compelled to move to Chappaqua as “I felt at home here.” Lucky for her, her students felt the same way, and followed her uptown. (“I even had a couple of families who ended up moving into the area,” she laughs.)
“We’re a family place,” Mamara reiterates–and she means that in the fullest sense of the phrase. She caught the bug from her mother, and has successfully passed it on to daughter Dina Michelle, who heads the studio’s Community Outreach division. Hoping Dina will eventually bring in the next generation, Mamara’s happy to report that several alumni have followed suit with their kids: “We have moms that we taught when they were kids [who] are now bringing their daughters and sons to us,” she explains.
And why shouldn’t they? They’ve already experienced everything Dance Emotions has to offer! In addition to the aforementioned programming, dancers perform at a variety of county-wide events and several off-site community centers throughout the year, including BOCES, school enrichment programs, the JCC, and Cerebral Palsy of Westchester. Regional and national competitions round out the season at large, which culminates in an collaborative end-of-year show held in June. And don’t forget The Nutcracker, presented in part by Impact Dance Company, their non-profit organization, and performed with live accompaniment from The Chappaqua Orchestra.
There’s also the fact that several alumni have gone on to prestigious careers in the dance and performing arts fields, appearing in worldwide dance companies, music videos, tours, TV commercials, and even on Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance–which, of course, make Ms. Carol and Ms. Dina very proud.
They also take pride in knowing they helped get the students there, and are equally affected when the students recognize them for that. “All our alumni–and even our current students–say to us, ‘If it wasn’t for you and Dance Emotions, [I wouldn’t have] the confidence in myself to do these things,’” shares Mamara.
These “things” in question are, of course, social skills and self-esteem. “You can walk into a room and just feel good about yourself,” states Mamara. It’s exactly this strong and healthy sense of self Mamara aimed to tap into when she first opened the company.
“The studio is called ‘Dance Emotions’ for a reason,” she explains. “There are many emotions in dance.” Mamara’s very happy to know that students walk away having experienced each of them.
And what does Mamara consider the most rewarding news to receive from an alum? “That they [now] use dance as a stress reliever! It’s not a job; it’s just fun.”
Of course, whether the students and their families know it or not, that rewarding feeling is reciprocated: “I feel honored for them to be trusting us,” notes Dina.
Likewise, Mamara wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s my calling in life,” she says, with a smile. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity of having the world of dance opened to me. If I can be instrumental in bringing this joy, fun, and happiness to others,” she concludes, “I’ll consider myself a lucky girl.” There’s no doubt she has.
Dance Emotions is located on the second floor of 75 South Greeley Avenue. For information on programs and performances, please visit www.danceemotions.net
Matt Smith is a writer and regular contributor to the Inside Press. For further information or inquiry, please visit www.mattsmiththeatre.com.