After nearly 25 years on Commercial Street, Morgan Academy of Dance will be changing things up and moving to a new location, 225 East 125 North, next to Riverside Park. The dance academy has been a part of Morgan for over 40 years. In that time the dance studio has had plenty of homes.
Morgan Academy of Dance and Tumbling owner, Yvonne Kennison, started dancing when she was very young. Kennison studied dance with Price School of Dance in Ogden and Potter School of Dance in East Layton. She went on to study ballet at University of Utah and had her first dance studio by the time she was 19 years old.
The first year she taught in her home, before moving into a dance studio in Farmington for five years.
Kennison moved to Milton in 1968. The first year in Morgan County, the dance studio was in John and Marilyn Lofgreen’s basement. For quite a few years she had her dance classes in the Morgan Daughters of Utah Pioneers building and spent a short while at the bowling alley. Eventually she joined with Julie Webb, who taught baton lessons in the old building on the corner of 125 North and Commercial Street, which is now a vacant lot. In 1989, the dance academy moved to the Vallis Hotel on Commercial Street, where they stayed for nearly 25 years.
Over the years, Kennison’s son, Ty Eldridge, and his wife Marina saw a need for the dance studio to have upgraded facilities. In April, Eldridge purchased the building formerly known as “The Dance Shack.” Ty and Marina, along with Center Point Construction, spent the whole summer renovating the building. The tumbling portion of the dance studio will be housed on the main level and a second level was added to accommodate a brand new dance floor with wall to wall mirrors.
The newly improved building will also be the new home to Achieve Fitness. Marina commented on how excited she was to see both Achieve Fitness and Morgan Academy of Dance in the same building. “The two businesses really complement each other. Their opposite peak hours make it possible for the fitness center to offer things such as Zumba and aerobics in the early hours before the dance studio is open.”
Many people probably remember Kennion’s daughter, Gretchen Richards, performing on Eugene Jelesnik’s talent show, where she won monthly awards and was recognized “grand winner of the year.” After high school, Gretchen went on to study advertising at Utah State University, then majored in communications at WSU. Reminiscing, Richards said, “Every year we did a program, there was ‘The Littlest Ballerina’; ‘The Ugly Duckling’; ‘Hansel and Gretel’; ‘It’s a Small World’ and ‘Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.’” She was only 2 years old when she sang “I’m a Little Blue Bird” in The Ugly Duckling. “My first dance program was ‘It’s a Small World.’ It was a hula dance. I remember being dressed like a Dutch girl, I had to wear wooden shoes. My grandfather, Boyd Farnsworth, made all our scenery and every year it was a new program, new scenery.”
Richards commented, “The fun of teaching dance is creating. We look at each student and at their individual abilities and create a part for them. We teach them how to captivate the audience; to draw them into the performance with their showmanship; we teach them to entertain.” Kennison went on to explain, “Dance can build self esteem. Some kids are scared, but after they perform they have a breakthrough. There is enormous growth in sharing your talent with others.”
Richards organized a dance team called the Sparklettes. This team produced several successful dancers. SuAnn Jenkins Harris went on to be a Utah Jazz Dancer and choreographed the opening ceremony for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga. She also choreographed and taught at “The Big Dance” in London just prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics. Lynette Turner performed as Belle on a Disney cruise ship; played the lead role in “Cats” in London, and has danced with Lee Greenwood and Dolly Parton.
Crystal Francis Howe is currently a Morgan Academy of Dance and Tumbling Instructor. Kathy Nelson Carter established Northern Star Bounders, a large tumbling school in West Haven, and several girls became BYU Cougarettes after high school.
Richards’ own daughters, McKel, Lindsey and Kalie Wessman, are instructors at Morgan Academy of Dance. Wessman, started teaching at 15 years old and eventually took on North Summit Extreme in Coalville, which is an extension of the Dance Academy. Wessman recently received her degree as a Registered Nurse from Weber State University, but continues to instruct many students in the various forms of dance and tumbling. Wessman’s daughter, Aspen, is a dancer as well, which makes four generations of dancers in the family.
Richards and Wessman are still participating in dance competitions as well. Wessman competed in a large dance competition called “America On Stage” at Lagoon in 2010. Out of 8,000 competitors, she won “Overall Grand Champ.” Richards recently particiapted in a ballroom dance competition with dance partner Perry Hunter and won in their age division for swing dancing.
Kennison is also a seamstress. She makes some of the costumes for the performances. Yvonne and husband, Dave, are ballroom dancers. Yvonne said that she has never worked more than two or three days a week at the studio, leaving time for other interests such as family, additional dance practice, education, church and social involvement.
With the new move, Kennison has expanded her curriculum and staff. The new staff members include Tricia Buss, former U of U cheer squad captain; Jodi Melendez, who will teach the new special needs and preschool classes; and Jesse Ramero, Universtiy of Utah tumbling coach. Classes will now be offered in: Power Tumbling; Gymnastics; Jazz; Ballet/Point; Clogging and Power Tap; Hip-Hop; Pre-school Dance and Tumbling; Mom and Tot (1-3 yrs) Creative Dance and Tumbling; Ladies Clogging (non- competitive); Cheerleading; Special Needs Dance and Couples Ballroom Dance.