Dance instructor hangs up leotard

Published 9:23 am Thursday, July 23, 2015

CALLING IT QUITS: Vicksburg Dance Studio owner Valerie Atwood stands with students Wednesday in her studio. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

CALLING IT QUITS: Vicksburg Dance Studio owner Valerie Atwood stands with students Wednesday in her studio. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Valerie Atwood has owned Vicksburg Dance Studio for 37 years, and now she is passing it over to instructor Kimberly Madsen Thomas. 

“I’m ready to take that next step in my life,” Atwood said. “I have a grandchild and another one on the way, and I have got somebody who I’m very confident in to take over. Had I not had that, I would still be in it trying to find somebody, but I’m very confortable with her taking over the studio.”

Since she was in junior high Atwood knew she wanted to own a dance studio. Once she turned 21 she was able to open her first studio on Clay Street in a building her parents built for her. When the business began to grow she moved to Manor Drive. Eventually she needed two studio rooms and built the current location at 3419 Wisconsin Ave.

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“My main goal with this was to teach children proper technique with dance, to teach them to love dance and want to come to dance, and to build their self-esteem,” Atwood said.

Atwood’s dancing career began when she was 2 years old. She took lessons at Willie Hoffman School of Dance in Vicksburg until her sophomore year of high school when she went to Jackson Ballet, now Ballet Mississippi. After high school, Atwood majored in dance at the University of Southern Mississippi. Before opening up her studio, she danced with Ballet Mississippi for a year after college.

Her studio teaches students ages 3 to 18 and there are adult classes as well. They offer a wide variety of styles of dance including jazz, acrobatics, ballet, tap, modern, lyrical, hip-hop, musical theatre and other elective classes.

Thomas is excited about taking over the business. Teaching at the studio for the past year has been a wonderful experience for her.

“I’ve worked at three studios and this has been the best job ever,” Thomas said. “I’ve loved it. We get along so well, and she’s just the nicest person.”

Running a studio wasn’t even on Thomas’ radar at first, but she loves the kids she teaches and enjoys being able to use her creativity daily. She is sad to see Atwood go because of their close relationship.

“I’m happy for her if this is what she wants, but I’ll definitely miss chatting with her after class,” Thomas said.

Thomas took her first dance class with Atwood when she was 7 years old. Her family moved from Vicksburg a year later, and the two hadn’t seen each other until Thomas was referred to the studio by a mutual acquaintance a year and a half ago. Atwood credits Thomas’ talent, creativity and her personality as to why she was chosen for the role of taking over the studio.

Thomas is the sole teacher at the studio, but she has help and resources she will use for certain classes like acrobatics.

“We have a cheerleader coming in and teaching the older girls how to do all sorts of stuff, front walkovers and aerials,” Thomas said.

Big ideas are ahead for the studio with plans to start a performing arts company on Tuesdays while continuing regular lessons on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3:30 until 8:30 p.m. The company will have open auditions, and will travel to competitions.

At 58, Atwood is ready to spend more time with her grandchildren who live outside of Memphis. She plans to do more projects at home and travel as well. Plus, she said she would still be around the studio often and will be a substitute when she is needed.

“It’s been a wonderful job,” Atwood said. “I loved it at 2 and a half and still at 58. It has been a joy. It’s been a blessing that I’ve been able to come to this job and enjoy everyday of it.”

For more information visit the Vicksburg Dance Studio Facebook page, or email