by Sue Ann Rybak
For many Mt. Airy community members, the words “Miss Kim” and the dance program at Allens Lane Art Center in Mt. Airy, are synonymous – until now.
Germantown resident Kim Williams, aka “Miss Kim,” taught her last dance class at the community center on Saturday, May 30. For more than 20 years, the Mt. Airy native has taught children, teenagers and adults how to pirouette or stomp, slide and pivot.
Williams, 58, who began her career at the center in 1991, working as an instructor with the summer camp, and who later created the Allens Lane dance program, said the decision to leave was not an easy one.
“I was sad,” she said. “I built my life around that program. At Allens Lane, our original goal was to make dance classes affordable for everyone in the community. Most dance schools require parents to pay large tuition and costume fees upfront and sign a long-term contract for several months. We did it differently.”
Unfortunately, she said Allens Lane Art Center is moving in a different direction now. That’s why she decided to leave and open Mt. Airy Performing Arts this summer at 230 E. Gowen Ave. in Mt. Airy on the campus of Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church.
The new center offers dance classes for youth, Zumba, tap for adults, Pilates, belly dancing, barre/stretch and strengthen, basic adult ballet classes and more.
The center will also feature the work of local artists, including Michelle Jones, whose paintings will be on display at the Mt. Airy Performing Arts Grand Opening and Art Show on Aug. 23 from 3 to 7 p.m.
“Our mission is to educate, nurture and showcase the artistic talents of a diverse community through dance, music, theater and art,” Williams said.
Prior to teaching, Williams, danced professionally for eight years with Finnan Productions, a variety show with Vegas-style productions that provided her with the opportunity to travel throughout Europe, the Middle and Far East, including Japan, Singapore, Bangkok and Korea.
“If you asked me 30 years ago would I become a teacher, I would have laughed,” she said. “I was a performer through and through, but after I came home from touring I got married and had children.”
William’s life changed forever when her mother, who owned the Jean Williams School of Ballet and created The Germantown Dance Theatre, a nonprofit regional dance company, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at just 58 years old.
Williams said she initially took the job at Allens Lane Art Center because it fit into her busy schedule as a caregiver. Williams, however, soon discovered she had a gift for teaching dance.
“I love teaching,” she said. “I love the arts. And I love sharing my love of the arts with children. I believe it gives them confidence, discipline and the ability to exist in the ever-changing world we live in today, and I believe every child on the planet deserves this and should have some form of the arts in their educational lives.”
Germantown resident Catherine Collins’ children both took Williams’ toddler ballet and tap class at Allens Lane Art Center.
“My daughter initially took classes with another area dance school, and although she liked the class, the school required us to pay a lot of money upfront and commit to a long session (several months) for a class that I wasn’t sure would want to continue with,” said Collins, 50, who is a reference librarian at Saint Joseph’s University.
She said Williams offers quality classes that are affordable. Parents are not required to buy costumes or pay for expensive tickets to attend their children’s recitals.
“The thing that strikes me most about Kim as a teacher is her enthusiasm,” Collins said. “Whether it’s preschoolers, teens or adults, Kim is dedicated to that class.”
She described Williams as a “Mt. Airy institution.”
“Whenever anyone asks about performing arts for children, Kim’s name is always brought up,” Collins said. “Everyone seems to know or know of ‘Miss Kim.’”
She said that, unlike other dance schools, Williams’ allows parents to pay monthly without a long-term commitment. She said Williams believes it’s essential that the classes offered not only be of good quality but affordable to the community.
She praised Williams style of teaching. She said her children’s self-confidence and self-esteem grew, thanks to Williams’ no nonsense and candid approach.
She even credits her son being potty-trained early, thanks to Williams’ requirement that all toddlers “be out of pull-ups” before they can join the class.
“The appeal of stomping around in tap shoes was pretty strong,” Collins said.
She also attributes both her children’s good posture to dance – especially that of her daughter.
“Both my kids are pretty physical, so exercise was never a concern, but my daughter wanted something creative, noncompetitive and low stress,” Collins said. “It’s why she decided to take ballet lessons with Kim again – that and the fact that she likes Kim so much.”
Rev. Nazareno Javier, rector of Grace Epiphany, also referred to Williams as “an institution in Mt. Airy.” He called the opening of the new art center on the church’s campus a “gift from God.”
“It’s really a blessing because of Kim’s great reputation,” he said. “As a church, we were looking beyond the financial aspect of having a tenant.”
He noted that the center’s mission is aligned with church’s “emerging ongoing vision” to make Grace Epiphany a community hub.
“We believe that God became one of us in Jesus and [therefore] all aspects of the human person are potential paths to encountering the mystery of God, so dance, civic involvement, education, and music are all potential pathways to a greater realization of God’s presence in our mist,” Javier said. “Hopefully, this arrangement will lead to other opportunities between us and the dance studio.”
Glenside resident Sue Pierce, who is a longtime parishioner at Grace Epiphany, said Williams’ has help revitalize the church.
“She brings this great spirit in the church,” she said.
Pierce, an adjunct English professor at Arcadia University. said recently she held a spring concert at the church and invited the community to attend. She added that Williams is very supportive of the children and their parents.
“She makes every effort to be inclusive,” Pierce said. “ She sometimes has kids in her class with some kind of disability and she always makes room for them. She really cares about developing the whole child and getting them to love dance and movement.”
Mt. Airy resident Suzanne O’Grady Laurito, a project developer, said Williams’ classes provide an atmosphere where kids feel safe to learn and have fun.
“I danced for years, and it can be a little competitive and even cut-throat at times,” she said.
Laurito said Williams’ program is unique because kids don’t feel pressured and parents don’t feel burdened by exorbitant tuition fees, costume fees, and ticket prices.
“It’s really about performing and giving kids an opportunity to get up on stage and put their skills to use,” said Laurito. “There is no pressure or huge expense from costumes fees and tickets. It’s not about the hair and make-up. Kim just strips it down to what is really important: the opportunity to have fun and perform for your family and your wider community.”
She added that “its important for kids to be exposed to the arts and develop an appreciation for them.”
“It just adds to the beauty of their life,” she said.
Mt. Airy resident Dana McAleer, a medical writer, agreed.
McAleer met Williams 15 years ago, when her oldest daughter started attending Our Mother of Consolation Church in Chestnut Hill with Kim’s son.
“She is a fantastic mentor,” she said. “She has this incredible way of drawing children out of their shell by fostering an environment where they feel free to express themselves. She is an excellent instructor. You don’t just walk in her class and play around. She recognizes that every child has strengths and weaknesses and helps them to set goals and work towards them.
“Once you are in her class, there is an element of discipline. I think that carries over to other parts of your life, While she recognizes that students are busy, they must learn to prioritize things and hold themselves accountable and not make excuses for themselves.”
McAleer, 43, added that Williams’ program is designed so that children can participate in other activities or simply be a kid.
“She is very aware of the fact that they have other things in their lives besides dance,” she said. “A lot of dance programs won’t let you do that – it’s either all or nothing.”
She added that Williams is a fixture in the community.
“She is a mentor, a coach, and a teacher, but most of all ‘Miss Kim’ is a friend and role model to many children, youth and adults in the community,” McAleer said.
For a limited time, All non-performing classes are free, but participates are asked to make a donation of $3 – $5 a session for the instructor. For more information about Mt. Airy Performing Arts or to register for classes, go to www.mtairyperformingarts.org call 215-248-1810.