Celebrating 30 years of dance in Philly

Pat Kaminski (center) and alumni from the Penn Academy Dance group at the April 20 recital in the Northeast. STAR FILE PHOTO

Students past and present thanked Penn Academy dance teacher Pat Kaminski for three decades of teaching them how to move at a recent ceremony.

Even through the words of a six-year-old, it’s clear Pat Kaminski is a fantastic dance teacher.

Georgia Polin, 6, who lives with her parents Lance and Deana Polin on East Sergeant Street, said Kaminski is great at making her feel happy during dance class.

“She makes me have fun in class. I always felt happy,” Georgia said, adding that she loves being on stage. “I like seeing my mom in the audience when I’m on stage.”

Kaminski has been the director of Penn Academy Dance since its inception in 1983, when she started the dance group out of a clubhouse at the Penn Academy Athletic Association in Northeast Philadelphia.

Over the years, students from all over Philadelphia have danced for Penn Academy, including Polin and other girls from the River Wards, Kaminski said.

And earlier in April, three decades of students gave her a big thank-you.

On the morning of Saturday, April 20, Penn Academy’s spring dance recital had brought about 200 parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings to the darkened school auditorium.

On the brightly lit stage, each parting of the curtains brought a new set of costumed dancers who waited, frozen in place, for the music to begin. Once it did, girls of all sizes and shapes danced their practiced routines to the music’s beat.

Then, right before intermission, the dance academy alumni pulled off their surprise. It is common for recent alums to return to dance at the spring recital, and they took the stage and began their number. But before you knew it, they were joined by a dozen older alums who had come back to honor their beloved teacher.

Nineteen alums in all packed the stage, dancing in unison to upbeat songs, including “Stray Cats” and Donna Summers’ “What a Feeling!”

Each was wearing a yellow T-shirt marked with the year in which they had started dancing classes at Penn Academy.

“I’m so shocked,” Kaminski said as she joined the young women on stage after their performance. “I haven’t seen some of these girls in years and years.”

The alums had practiced their dance routines three times in secret to carry off the surprise. Among those who returned were two of “the Price girls,” Jamie Tritz and Stephanie Price. A third sister, Melissa, lives too far away, in Texas, and a fourth sister, Alexis, is still enrolled in the academy.

Kaminski said she seeks to make each dancer her best with encouragement and personal attention. A former dancer herself, she made the effort to start a dance group, she said, simply because she “always loved it.”

“It’s time consuming,” Kaminski said of teaching her dancers in addition to her full-time job as an agent at Polonia Bank. “You have to like it.”

It’s clear she does — she choked up with pride in the living room of her home when talking about memorable dancers from her three decades of teaching.

“I love it, I love the kids,” she said. “I am so proud of them. They look like Broadway dancers,” she said.

Their success is not without challenges, she said. Penn Academy accepts girls of all shapes, sizes and levels of skill.

“All of our students are not Rockettes, but we try to figure out a way to get each girl involved and make her get better,” Kaminski said.

Penn Academy accepts girls from 3 to 18 years old, and the cost is only $100 for the season, which runs from September to April. When the girls graduate the academy, Kaminski said it’s always heart wrenching, since both she and the girls become very attached to the program, and to one another.

“This year is going to be emotional [at the end-of-season recital], because the class that’s leaving is mine,” Kaminski said. The graduating class of girls has been under Kaminski’s tutelage from when they were 3 or 4 years old — “little divas,” Kaminski calls them.

After the intermission at the recital, the current senior class showed a video compilation of their dance recitals down through the years.

“We became more than just dancers, we became a family,” the narrator said.

Kaminski watched the video from a front-row seat in the auditorium, and got a lump in her throat.

“I hope I’ve had some good impact,” she said. “A lot of these girls are in each others’ weddings. They’ve stayed friends all through the years.”

Her daughter, Pamela Kelble, of Academy Gardens noticed the faint red marks trailing down the length of her mother’s right arm, and asked what that was.

“The girls were kissing me,” Pat said, pointing to the lipstick reminders her dancers had left behind. ••

Lillian Swanson contributed to this report.

Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215–354–3113 or at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.