by Constance Garcia-Barrio
Students in the summer day camp at the Quinn Center for the Performing Arts, 6322 Germantown Ave., get a surprise. Many school-age students suffer the equivalent of one month’s learning loss over summer vacation, according to the Brookings Institute, Washington, D.C., which does research in social sciences, but Quinn Center students may end the summer not only with sharper dance moves but stronger scholastic preparation.
“We teach jazz, ballet, hip hop, modern dance, praise dance and musical theatre to children from ages 5 to 10, but we also take an hour a day for academic work,” said the center’s owner, Eryka Lynn Waller, 27. “Our day camp considers the whole child.”
Trips to go bowling and skating as well as visits to Cherry Hill’s Garden State Discovery children’s museum, Mt. Laurel’s CoCo Key water resort, and other sites add another dimension to the curriculum, but attention to children’s development goes deeper.
“If I sense that something’s troubling a student, I’ll invite that young person to sit down and talk,” said Waller, who earned a master’s degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College in 2015. “The skills I learned in that program help me approach young people at the center,” said Quinn, who named the center for a cousin adopted into the family in 2001 who later died due to complications from meningitis.
Waller’s family background, which emphasizes service, played a part in her starting the center. Born in Donora, PA, 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, Waller recalls that the town had two streets and one stop sign.
“Our family lived in Donora because my father became a pastor in a church there,” she said. “Growing up, I saw that he was always giving to the community, always going above and beyond, and that influenced me.”
The family moved to Philadelphia when Rev. Waller joined the clergy at Enon Baptist Church.
Waller’s mother also provides an example of helping others.
“My mother works against human trafficking around the world. She has a doctorate from Temple University in curriculum instruction and technology in education.”
Dance also became part of Waller’s life early.
“I began to dance at age 3,” said Waller, who attended the Children’s Ballet in Philadelphia as well as the Progressive Center for Dance, the Koresh Dance Company, Beyond Dance Company and other local schools.
In addition, she has sung, danced and acted in Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey.
“Thanks to an internship from the Broadway Dream Foundation, I had the honor of working with choreographer Spencer Liff, who was nominated twice for Emmy awards,” Waller said.
Even with those rich experiences, Waller thought twice about opening the center.
“I was working in the neo-natal Intensive Care Unit at Einstein Medical Center,” she said. “I had to think about giving up the steady salary and benefits.”
Two things helped her move forward.
“My mother’s family is from Barbados – my great-grandfather entered the U.S. through Ellis Island – and that Afro-Caribbean heritage includes a strong work ethic,” she said. “We have lots of entrepreneurs on that side of the family, so facing hard work didn’t frighten me.”
Another factor also convinced her to open the studio.
“It felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing, and I got signs letting me know that it was time for a change. For instance, I went to church one Sunday, and the sermon was on finding the right path for your life. That spoke directly to me!”
Serendipity lent a hand.
“Originally, I was to have space at the Allens Lane Art Center in Mt. Airy, but then the space on Germantown Avenue became available. The 23 bus makes it more convenient for potential clients, and more people see the center because of foot traffic.”
The historic sites – including the Johnson House, a certified stop on the Underground Railroad, a few doors down at 6306 Germantown Avenue, and the Upper Burying Ground, across the street at 6309 – give the area appeal, Waller noted.
The then-soon-to-be performing arts center was structurally sound, but it still required work.
“I had to have painting done, mirrors installed, plenty of water stocked up, and other things,” she said. “There are lots of steps, but I’m glad I had the courage to go ahead.”
Waller has exciting developments in store. She and her traveling troupe, 2Q Dance Company, performed in the Kids’ Zone on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway the afternoon of the Fourth of July.
“We donate part of our proceeds to the Gift of Life Family House (401 Callowhill St.), which provides lodging for transplant patients and their families.”
Waller is also gearing up for the fall.
“Our fall classes are for students from ages 4 to 18, but we’ll add a class for children 2 to 3 years old,” she said. “We’ll also begin a discount for siblings because we want the classes to be within reach for as many people as possible.”
For more information, visit TheQuinnCenter.org or call 267-904-4990.