“And 5, 6, 7, 8!”Katherine Scotto, owner of the Hampton Bays School of Dance, has been teaching dance routines in eight counts for most of her life. Dance steps and combinations are taught in sets of eight beats, referred to as “eight counts.”
Ms. Scotto has been slipping on ballet shoes ever since she could walk. She began teaching at age 14 at her mother’s studio, the Brookhaven School of Dance, in Bellport.
When she was 21, the first class at what is now the Hampton Bays School of Dance performed in the basement of the Hampton Bays United Methodist Church on West Montauk Highway. Some of those students still dance under Ms. Scotto’s tutelage today.
After changing names and locations a few times, she finally settled her dance studio—which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year—atop her husband, Simone’s, Italian deli, Scotto’s Pork Store, on West Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. Students have rehearsed on the building’s second floor for the past eight years, she said.
To help commemorate her studio’s anniversary, Ms. Scotto noted that several special performances, including an alumni dance, a mothers’ tap dance routine and a father-daughter dance, will be performed at recitals scheduled for next weekend, June 7 and 8, at Hampton Bays High School. The show will conclude this year’s dance season, which began in September.
Ms. Scotto, now 41, explained recently that when she designed the curriculum for her studio, having her students participate in competitions was not an avenue she wanted to explore. “During my training, I studied technique under my mom,” she said. “That’s what you strive for.”
Technique in dance stems from ballet, which is required of all of the dancers attending her Hampton Bays studio. “Ballet is the foundation,” she continued. “If you don’t have ballet, you don’t have much else.”
The studio offers classes for children ages three and up. They can enroll in ballet, tap, jazz, modern ballet, hip hop and pointe. This year, Ms. Scotto offered a tap class for mothers and another for fathers and daughters, so they could perform on the stage together next weekend.
Ms. Scotto noted that watching her students, as well as her four children—Antonio, 13, Simone, 11, Gianni, 8 and Gabriela, 4—grow and continue to improve over the years, both as dancers and people, remains the most rewarding part of her job. She said that dancing is cathartic, and she enjoys providing a creative release for many young girls in the community.
“This is their outlet, and this is their release,” she said. “It’s more than just dance.
“I know all of them,” she continued, referring to her students. “I see them grow up, I know them, and I love being able to be there for each one.”
Many of the girls return to the studio after graduating from high school, according to Ms. Scotto. One student, Tori Pisaneschi, has been dancing under Ms. Scotto since she was three. Now, the 21-year-old is entering her junior year at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where she studies dance.
She still teaches at the studio each summer and remains close with Ms. Scotto and other members of her “dance family.”
“I love it because we don’t do competitions,” Ms. Pisaneschi said in a phone interview last week.
Being able to focus on one performance each year has helped Ms. Pisaneschi develop her technique, which, she said, prepared her for her collegiate dance career. “Training teaches you not only how to perform, but you’re also getting the background to further the skills you need,” she said. “You never stop learning when it comes to dance.”
Sara Helgans, one of Ms. Scotto’s current students, echoed Ms. Pisaneschi’s observations, adding that the dance studio feels more like a second home, and the dancers more like members of her extended family. This will be the 16-year-old’s 12th year dancing under Ms. Scotto’s instruction. Her favorite type of performance is ballet.
“Sometimes, I feel like I’m flying,” Sara said while in the studio last week. “I fly, and I forget about everything else.”
The Baiting Hollow resident said she wants to pursue dance in college, but plans to return to Hampton Bays in her spare time to teach and assist. She’s currently training as a teacher’s assistant under Ms. Scotto.
“Katherine doesn’t think of you as part of a group,” she said of Ms. Scotto’s diligence when working with students. “She thinks of you as an individual, and that’s so special.”
Sara observed that being in the studio three or four nights per week has become second nature, and she credits Ms. Scotto with her growth, grace and passion for ballet. “It might sound corny, but it’s life,” Sara said. “It’s a passion. That’s hard to hide.”
Though the current season will soon be over, Ms. Scotto said she is keeping busy planning summer sessions and a new “mini ballerina” program that will start in September for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Ms. Scotto is also planning a trip for students to participate in the World of Dance 2015—a series of performances that brings together dancers from around the world. The festival will be held at Walt Disney World in Florida from June 28 through July 1, 2015. Dancers ages nine and up will perform in a parade at Magic Kingdom and at Hollywood Studios in Orlando. She said she is still generating interest and is excited to take students to the next level of performance.
Those interested in registering for summer or fall classes at Hampton Bays School of Dance can visit www.hbschoolofdance.com, or “like” the Hampton Bays School of Dance page on Facebook. They can also call the studio at (631) 723-0723.