After a career detour as a corporate mergers-and-acquisition attorney, Michelle Sperry returned to the creative world of dance when she opened her Fleur de Lis Dance Academy in Wilton in 2010. And truly, it was a return, as Sperry had begun dancing from a very young age.
“I danced since I was four years old. I always knew I wanted to dance.” She attended Interlochen Arts Academy in high school, and later danced with the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, the Boston Ballet, in Monte Carlo and in France. “Everything I did revolved around dance–I didn’t ski because I didn’t want to hurt my knees,” she said.
Sperry originally sought out the law as a post-ballet career because she thought it would marry her desire to perform with her academic abilities. “Remember L.A. Law? That made the law seem much more dramatic than it turned out to be!” Sperry laughs.
Later on as a mom looking for a dance program for her first of four children, she discovered there were few programs that would meet her standards both as a mom and as a former professional dancer. “A local studio said to me, ‘Well, if this is what you want, then you teach it.’ That’s how I started teaching.”
Now in her studio’s fourth year, Sperry has relocated her dance school from the very visible two-story brick building at the corner of Kent and Rt. 7, to a space that’s a little more tucked away upstairs at 1 Danbury Rd.
“One thing that was important to us was to have a studio that would accommodate us as we grow, and proper flooring. Now we’re in a wood building, so we have professional marley flooring on top of wood, which is the best that we can have for our dancers. We have three studios, and we have a dedicated room that’s just for our non-profit dance company. We have a separate room for our lower school, and we have a room that’s for jazz and hip hop, as well as a community place.”
Sperry said there’s also a locker room for dancers and a study hall for kids who spend a lot of time at the studio, who can now get some homework and studying done.
She’s also excited about having other businesses in the plaza to collaborate with. “It’s very kid- and family-oriented. Moms can go grab a piece of pizza, there’s a nail salon, a hair salon, and the other tenants are awesome. And we can co-market–at our “Manners Camp” this summer, John’s Best pizza let me set up a display in the restaurant and he created a three-course meal for our campers. Jo-Jo’s Nails have been offering specials for our students.”
As for Fleur de Lis, they’ll continue to offer the dance classes and manners classes they’ve become known for. But one of the things that differentiates Fleur de Lis from some other area dance companies is the non-profit dance company Sperry has started, called Encore Youth Dance Company. There will be a junior and senior divisions. The juniors range in age from kindergarten to 4th grade, and seniors run from 4th grade through high school.
“At a professional dance company, adults are paid to dance through donations and patrons. What we want to do with our company is do that for children, but instead of paying the children, we are going to “pay them” by giving them their tuition. Both kids who can’t afford it and children just on their merit as dancers can be a part of this company, and it will be affordable and accessible whether you can or can’t afford it,” Sperry explains.
She’s hosting an inaugural gala celebrating ENCORE on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 3 p.m.. The free event will feature performances, a silent auction, raffle, refreshments and family fun!
She added that she’s working with several area music schools about teaming up to have their student orchestras perform live at the company’s spring show.
A range of dance classes
Fleur de Lis offers many options for dance classes. The first of two programs is for younger dancers, in the lower school.
“That’s where I’ve built my reputation on, working with little children–loving them, nurturing them, being patient. We have a four-week refund policy, we ask families to give us four weeks so we can really let the child have an opportunity feel comfortable here. There’s Storybook Ballet, that I’ve been teaching for over 20 years. We have a Magic Manners program where they get dressed up from our wardrobe like princes and princesses, and have snack in a manners lesson. We have a combination primary ballet and tap, so they can start to explore upbeat, contemporary music in an age-appropriate way. And we have a Mommy and Me, for moms and kids to bond and be exposed to traditional ballet, and get to know other area moms,” Sperry says.
In the upper school, there’s a wider variety of types of dance classes offered.
“There’s our classical ballet program, where our children are in American Academy of Ballet exams and performance awards. Every child gets to be a star with a solo. Every parent will get to see their child perform the same choreography, everyone does a solo. That’s for children who want to be in a pre-professional track. There’s also teen ballet, for middle schoolers and teens who don’t necessarily want to dedicate a minimum of three times a week. We also do “acro”–acrobatics for dancers. We do a really great musical theater/dance class–it’s great for kids who are doing Wilton Children’s Theater, they pick up the choreography much quicker. Also, Lyrical and Contemporary dance–that So You Think You Can Dance look. ” Sperry says.
She’s very excited about a special 3-day program that will offer different international forms of dance, and there might be an appearance from one of the winners of that very show, So You Think You Can Dance. The Junior musical theater class will work on the Broadway Musical version of the movie Frozen that’s in development now. There’s one scheduled for September, one on Martin Luther King Day and one on Election Day.
Sperry bubbles over with enthusiasm for all the classes and ideas she has–Bollywood dance, African dance, and more. “The teachers who are coming are really, really exciting!”
Above all, she’s still that same dance-obsessed young-at-heart eternal dancer, where everything she does revolves around dance. The only difference is that now it’s for everyone else. “That’s my dream,” she says, “for everyone to have access to these classes and have it be really affordable.”
To learn more about Fleur de Lis, call 203.210.7155 or visit their website.