A change in beat

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, July 29, 2009

WINDSOR—The Windsor School of Dance will operate under new ownership when it reopens in the fall, but this is the only thing that will change.

Rhonda Demsko, who started the school in 1991, has sold the business to Jessica Cannavo. Interestingly, Cannavo was Demsko’s very first student.

“When we talked about it, I knew that Jessica would run the business the way I did, “Demsko said. “I love this school, and I could not have sold it to just anyone.

“It had to be someone who would continue with the same techniques, the same discipline and the same spirit and love of dance that I had.

“Obviously I’ve known Jessica longer than any of my students, watched her grow up, as a matter of fact, and I’m excited that she is taking over.”

“The feeling is mutual,” said Cannavo with a smile. “We’re all sad that Rhonda is moving out of the county, which is why she’s selling, but happy that we’ll be able to continue the business.

“We have anywhere from 150 upwards to 400 students per season who depend on us,” she added. “We can’t let them down.”

Demsko, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in dance from Atlantic Christian College, said she wondered when she moved to Windsor, “Where is my daughter going to dance?

“Of course, I had no daughter at the time, but actually, my concern was that there was no place in the area for children to dance, and that’s the reason I opened the school here.

“As it turned out, I had three boys, but still no daughter. It didn’t matter,” she said with a smile. “There were plenty of girls here, and boys too, who wanted to learn and the business has grown every year.”

Demsko, 50, whose dancing abilities helped her become a finalist in the Miss Virginia Pageant in 1978, actually started teaching dance for Isle of Wight County Parks and Recreation in 1985. Through the years since she started the dance school, she has initiated several new programs in Windsor.

One of the most popular, started 10 years ago under the sponsorship of Parks and Recreation, is the Miss IOW County pageant. Here any female, student or non-student, ages three to 22 may vie for the title of one of six IOW crowns — Wee, Little, Junior, Pre-teen, Teen and Miss IOW County. Winner of the Miss IOW County crown goes on to compete in the State Fair competition.

Holders of the six titles will represent IOW County for the following year, Demsko said. They have as many as 60 events to cover — nursing homes, parades, the Fourth of July, Relay for Life, to name a few.

“We’ve been practicing for the pageant a while now and at present the practice is in full swing, Demsko said. “We don’t have much time because the pageant will be held on Saturday at the Smithfield High School Auditorium.

“This is such a good thing for these students, though,” she went on. “It teaches them how to act in front of an audience and serves them well in future activities. It’s not about how well you dance, or how pretty you are. It’s confidence in yourself. “

The school operates from September through May, from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., four nights per week. The ages of regular students are two to adult.

There are three classrooms in operation simultaneously, with plenty of supervision, Demsko said. “The kids seem to like it. We never have any trouble with them.”

Cannavo, 26, who has been helping Demsko since she graduated from East Carolina State University, agrees. “Some of them are so happy here, it’s hard to make them leave.

The new owner most definitely will not change anything, she said.

“I can’t see why I would want to. Rhonda has done a terrific job. She is always trying new things to keep the students interested, like taking short trips and having sleepovers here at the studio.

“She gives her students plenty of exposure. They dance at football games, parades, and many other events. She even put together an elite team of some of the best dancers who are available at any time to dance for special events.

“To top it off, she knows all the students by their first names, and they all love her.

Cannavo added, “I know, because I was once a student myself.”

Although Demsko will stay for a while during the transition, she wants to thank in advance all the parents and students who took a chance on her, she said.

“None of them knew how well I would do, but they supported me, and I appreciate it.”