Eight months after deciding she would open a dance school in Hinsdale, Jennifer Grapes is 10 days away from putting on her first classes.
“I’m excited to see my vision come to life,” Grapes said Thursday morning, sitting behind the reception desk of the new Hinsdale Dance Academy & Boutique at 414 Chestnut Street.
Classes at Hinsdale Dance Academy (HDA) are set to begin Oct. 22 and will include all different genres, from hip-hop, to tap, to of course ballet. Grapes, the school’s director and co-owner, is a ballerina who began her professional career dancing with the Albany Berkshire Ballet at age 19 and has since performed with numerous ballet companies and at venues in Europe, Australia and North America.
She retired as a professional dancer in February after 13 years
Led by Grapes—whose name is pronounced just like the fruit—and five other faculty members, as well as a small crew of guest teachers, HDA’s schedule has a class for dancers of any age. There are “Mommy and Me” sessions for young children on Monday and Wednesday mornings and adults-only classes on Friday night. In between is a slate of elementary, intermediate, and advanced classes for young dancers that take place mostly on weeknights between 4 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
“We hope to be Hinsdale’s very own premier dance academy,” said Grapes, a Kansas City native who opened HDA with a former Hinsdale resident acting as a silent partner.
HDA students will also perform in recitals. Grapes said the first such performance will be the famous ballet Giselle, which is planned for Spring 2013.
Though it is in the same location and has the same name, Grapes’ studio has no affiliation the old Hinsdale Dance Academy, which was run by Yvonne Brown Collodi until it closed in 2000.
As the ballet mistress of DManagement Dance Agency and the Montgomery Ballet, Grapes said she has developed an “open-door policy” with those she instructs that emphasizes mutual respect between instructors and learners. Though the stereotypical ballet director is an authoritarian figure, Grapes said her studio won’t be run like a dictatorship.
“I want my [students] to feel like they can come to me with any questions or technical issues, or even personal issues,” Grapes said.
Read Grapes' recent Patch blog post encouraging dance teachers to inspire instead of intimidate.
She said she’s found since becoming a teacher that she now understands why directors gave her certain instructions that at the time didn’t seem to make sense.
That perspective should benefit her students.
“Because I’ve lived it, I’m able to guide these dancers with what [experience] I have,” Grapes said.
The cozy 414 Chestnut space features one studio behind a front-reception area and a retail area, which is already open. Grapes said there is room on the property for expansion, and additional studios are a long-term possibility. But for now, she’s very happy with the space and does not want to lose its intimate, neighborhood feel.
“The best way to do that is to keep it small at first and grow from there.”