DUNDEE — In the 1970s, Cheryl Siegfried went to New York City to study ballet. She danced professionally at the famed Radio City Music Hall. Later, she performed in many touring productions in ballet, musical theater, drama, and opera.
It was during that time that she met her future husband, Richard.
“That was the end of my career!” she said with a laugh. “I was kind of sick of it all anyway.”
She married Richard, they had three children, and the couple settled in the Lakemont area of Yates County, where Cheryl was music director for Freedom Village USA. In the early 1990s, her love of dancing returned — this time as a teacher.
“The bug started biting me again to dance and choreograph, so my sweet, wonderful husband sneakily found this space above Milly’s Pantry (in Penn Yan),” Cheryl remembered. “There was a big studio and a small studio. I took the small studio and taught classical ballet. I started with six kids.”
From those humble beginnings as Seneca School of Ballet, Siegfried formed what is now Seneca School of Performing Arts. From her studio above the Classic Café in Dundee, she teaches several dance classes and offers private voice and piano lessons, along with a musical theater component.
Siegfried graduated from Syracuse University with a dual major in voice and piano. The Syracuse native ran her Penn Yan studio for three years before moving to Dundee, where the studio was above the old bowling alley on Main Street for about 15 years.
When Siegfried closed the studio in 2009, she had close to 100 students from Penn Yan, Dundee and nearby areas, including Watkins Glen. She later sold the business, but the new owner could not make it work.
About seven years ago, Siegfried approached Classic Café owner Steve Owens about space above his business to restart her studio.
It wasn’t a pretty sight.
“There were birds all over, and some windows were broken,” she described. “Some of the birds were dead, some still alive ... and others were bones. The floor had a gray muck all over it.
“Steve said it was a disaster up there, but God bless him he did everything I asked him to do. He did all the floors, put in new light fixtures, and his wife made curtains.”
Eventually, Siegfried turned the space into a large dance studio, an area for piano and voice lessons, and storage for musical theater costumes. Classes in ballet and modern dance are held several times per week.
Siegfried teaches the dance classes, getting help from former students who are now in high school and college. Siegfried’s daughter, Mary Rosenberger, also teaches; Mary is the founder and artistic director of the musical theater company component, Storytellers Theatre.
“My mother would never say this about herself, but her skills of teaching children are amazing,” said Rosenberger, who was taught as a young child by her mother and has 18 years of classical and lyrical ballet training, some at various schools across nationwide. “The kids love her, but she is tough. Ballet is hard.”
Siegfried has between 50-60 students now, mostly from Yates and Schuyler counties, but some also from as far away as the Naples/Honeoye area. While she is serious about teaching them to dance properly, she wants them to have fun.
“The thing about this place that is unique to other dance schools is that we are not competitive. We encourage the students to encourage each other,” Siegfried said. “It’s not like everybody is looking each other up and down. The schools I went to were like that. Everybody hated each other. I was determined not to have that when I opened the school, and a lot of people come here because of that. It’s about friendship, but there is good training. We’ve had girls go on to be dance majors (in college) and professional ballerinas.”
“This is definitely more recreational, but over time the training is good,” Rosenberger added. “We’ve had a couple of students who now do this professionally, but it’s also a studio for kids who will graduate from high school and probably never dance again.”