The owner of Ballet Arts of Peru has been working in the studio for 50 years
June 8 – PERU – Debbie Alwine was 7 years old when she joined Ballet Arts of Peru. It was 1972, and the studio had just opened in his hometown, teaching tap, jazz and ballet.
Fast forward 50 years to today, and Alwine now owns the studio where she first developed her passion for dance. She has attended every recital in studio history, even when she was not involved.
And it has grown the number of students from around 90 to nearly 300 since it took over operations 20 years ago.
This includes teaching students who ended up dancing in major troupes in New York, Chicago and Los Angles. Three of his students ended up as Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders.
Alwine said looking back, it’s hard to believe she was a part of studio history for most of her life. It’s even harder to believe that she runs a business that has taught thousands of local children over the past 50 years.
“Fifty is just a big number for any business, let alone a dance studio,” she said. “It makes me very proud.”
But none of this would have been possible without its founders, Frank Ortiz and Sylvia Ortiz-Farrior, who decided to return to Indiana after working as professional dancers in New York.
A BALLET IS BORN
Ortiz-Farrior grew up in Wabash, where she attended the longtime Wabash Valley Dance Theater. She then studied dance at Indiana University in Bloomington, which is one of the best dance schools in the country.
From there, Ortiz-Farrior’s talent took her to New York, where she landed a job with a professional dance troupe and met her husband. She even landed gigs in a commercial and a horror movie.
Eventually, she returned to the area and decided to open her own dance studio. Instead of opening it in her hometown and competing with her old teachers, she decided to open it in Peru.
Thanks to its dance prowess, the studio quickly gained a reputation as a top-notch professional place to study dance. This reputation prompted 7-year-old Alwine to sign up for lessons.
Alwine remained with the program throughout school, and she and Ortiz-Farrior formed a close bond. After graduating, Alwine married and had two children, leaving dance behind.
But everything changed when Alwine got a call out of nowhere. It was Ortiz-Farrior, asking if Alwine was interested in returning to teach. At the time, Alwine was working as an accountant for a local company, but she couldn’t turn down the opportunity to flex her artistic muscles again.
“It was the best phone call ever because I know that’s what I was supposed to do,” she said.
After taking summer dance classes at Butler University to get in shape and perfect her moves, Alwine was back in the studio less than 10 years after graduating as a student.
Under Ortiz-Farrior’s tutelage, Alwine quickly picked herself up and realized she had a natural aptitude for teaching. This is something that Ortiz-Farrior also noticed.
After a few years of teaching, Ortiz-Farrior approached Alwine and told her she had a five-year plan for the studio. This included Ortiz-Farrior’s retirement and Alwine taking over the business.
“She said, ‘I want you if you want to take over,'” Alwine said. “Five years later, I was ready. She really helped train me and the transition was really smooth.”
In a way, running a dance studio was the perfect fit for Alwine. She said she’s always been creative and loved creating dance routines, but she also loves numbers and has always had a penchant for business.
“You have left and right sides of your brain, and I could use both while doing this,” Alwine said. “It really was a perfect combo.”
With his blend of creativity and practicality, it didn’t take long for Alwine to take the studio to the next level. Soon she moved the whole operation to a new location where they could have two dance floors instead of one.
The extra space allowed Alwine to double, and then triple, the number of students they could teach. It also helped that almost all of the dance teachers she hired were taught by Ortiz-Farrior and knew how the studio worked.
Alwine also realized that children wanted to learn more than the traditional dance forms of ballet, tap and jazz. They wanted to learn hip-hop, lyrical and modern dance. So she took classes to learn them, and then brought the styles into the studio.
“You have to keep going and keep evolving because dance is always evolving,” Alwine said. “So we kept going and growing.”
Today, more children are enrolled in modern dance classes than in traditional classes.
THE BIG SHOW
Through it all, the biggest selling point has been the annual ballet and dance show every June that allows students to show off their moves. This year, this show includes a full ballet of “Beauty and Beast” and then dance routines of all the children.
Alwine said they’ve done a full ballet every season for five decades, including hits like “Sleeping Beauty.” She even wrote her own ballets, including plots, characters, and choreography.
But this year, the performance will be even bigger to celebrate the studio’s 50th anniversary. This includes returning Ballet Arts of Peru alumni, who will present their own performance as part of the show.
Performances will take place at the Lycée du Pérou Auditorium at 7:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2:00 p.m. Saturday.
Now, looking to the future, Alwine said she has no plans to leave the studio anytime soon. She’s 56 and nailing some dance moves has gotten a little harder, but she still feels great.
“As long as I’m physically able to do it, and still feel artistic, and still able to do it, I’ll do it,” Alwine said. “I still feel very creative, but every year it gets a little harder physically.”
She said at the end, however, that the job was not limited to teaching dance. It is about giving children confidence, building self-esteem and providing them with a form of self-expression.
And it’s the kids who have made running the dance studio for the past 20 years worth it, Alwine said.
“For me, the most rewarding part of it all isn’t the career or the job, but it’s the relationship you have with all those kids,” she said. “I like.”
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, [email protected] or on Twitter @carsongerber1.