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Local Studio Dances Through Decades

Behind The Scenes at Yvonne’s School of Dance
Starlighters+at+43rd+Annual+Recital%0A
TRACY MCMANUS
Starlighters at 43rd Annual Recital

EDISON—Yvonne’s School of Dance has been educating students in Middlesex County in the art of dance for the past 44 years, but how much do you know about the iconic dance school located in Edison, New Jersey?

The studio has undergone some changes since its opening in 1980. From renovations to a new owner, the studio has withstood the test of time and is still well-known in Edison and the surrounding areas for its performances around the county, the variety of classes it offers, and the Starlighters.

Who Even Is Yvonne?

The studio was originally opened in 1980 by Yvonne Ambrosio, better known as Miss Yvonne, and back then things were a lot different. The dancers didn’t have phones, their music was given to them on cassette tapes, they were given handwritten notes, and they were lucky if they could review their dances amongst themselves before class officially started.
“Yvonne was tough and sometimes scary. If you missed class, you better know what you missed before coming back,” said Tracy McManus, new YSOD owner and former student of Yvonne.

Miss Yvonne decided after her 35th year that it was time to pass on the company. She wanted to sell it to someone who shared her same beliefs, but she did not have children and her niece, Dawn, did not want to take over the studio. In the end, Yvonne wanted someone who she had known for a long time and could trust—someone who would be able to continue her work and inspire a new generation of dancers. She knew the right person was her former student.
“I had known Yvonne since I was four, was a flower girl in her wedding, and our families grew close over many years,” said McManus.

A Silent Transition

“Miss Yvonne and I had been talking about this for years. She planted the thought in my head in high school,” said McManus. McManus knew in high school that she wanted to do something with dance but didn’t want to tour and “sadly I’m way too short to be a Radio City Rockette.” She knew that the next best thing would be to own a studio. Her parents owned their own business, and they supported her dream but knew owning a business wouldn’t be easy.

McManus attended Wagner College, a liberal arts college in Staten Island, and earned a Math Degree as a backup plan. “After graduating college, working in corporate during the day and teaching dance multiple nights a week, I’d burn out quickly,” said McManus. “I decided it was time to pursue my dream.”

“We made a silent transaction and transition in July of 2015 after [Yvonne’s] 35th recital,” said McManus, who has now been running the studio since. But at first, they didn’t make an official announcement saying that Yvonne was retiring.

McManus is a former student turned current owner of YSOD. ( Courtesy of Tracy McManus)

None of the parents were notified because McManus and Ambrosio were scared of how parents would react to the change. “They’ve known Yvonne so long that if they knew she was selling the business, are they going to leave and go elsewhere?” said McManus. They were both in an agreement that they wouldn’t fully share what was going on behind the scenes. A year later, at the 36th annual recital, Yvonne announced that for the past year, Tracy had been running the studio.

After she became the owner, McManus slowly started to renovate the studio, and some new teachers came in. “I keep a lot of it the same with more technology behind it. There was no need to reinvent the wheel. I did make some changes to the office and admin side to make it more automated. However, we still follow the traditions of discipline, respect, and accountability on the teaching side. Our teachers are all products of Yvonne’s School of Dance,” said McManus.

Classes and Recital

Yvonne’s School of Dance offers many different styles of dance for all different levels and ages. From Sparkle Tots to recreational, adult, and competitive classes, YSOD has something for everyone. Most classes are offered singularly, but some require you to take classes alongside another class or have specific age requirements.

For younger children (ages 2.5 – 4), they offer Sparkle Tots, which meets one time per week for one hour. This is an introductory class containing ballet, tap and creative movement. Students are taught basic steps, how to follow directions, and how to imitate movements in a positive learning environment.

For ages 5 – 7.5 YSOD offers Combo Classes. These classes meet once a week for an hour, an hour and a half, or a full two hours (based on the age of the dancer). Students aren’t allowed to participate in Jazz or Hip-Hop until the age of 5.

Recreational classes are available to students 8 till they graduate at 18, and several options exist: Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Hip-hop, and Lyrical (Ballet must be taken in conjunction with lyrical, and the dancer must be 10 years of age), Pointe (for students ages 13 and up who have continuously studied ballet), and Acro. These classes go for 45 minutes and the amount of times they meet varies depending on what classes the students are taking.

During the summer, the studio offers classes for recreational students. For younger kids, there is usually a theme for the class, and the older students are given the opportunity to audition for Starlighters.

Something relatively new that the studio offers is adult classes. These classes vary during the year and, unlike normal classes which you sign up for at the beginning of the year, you sign up for them individually when they’re announced.

Every year the dance school hosts their annual dance recital at The State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ. This year marks the studio’s 44th season.

The Starlighters

Begun when the studio opened in 1980, The Starlighters are a select group of dancers who have shown that they are dedicated to the art and are 100% committed to dance. The program is by invitation only.

Depending on the dancer, each performer could be at the studio 3 or more times a week, and during competition season, they spend hours rehearsing. Each class is an hour besides ballet which lasts an hour and a half.

During the summer they still have classes, and attendance is mandatory. A standard is held when it comes to the Starlighters, and you need to be able to meet that standard to stay on the team.

Along with regular classes, Starlighters are given the opportunity to audition to be a part of elite teams at the end of the summer. These elite teams are small groups of select dancers that stand out in certain styles of dance. These dances are learned in a few months and then performed at competitions.

Competition dances are learned the season prior. For example, the dances that are learned at the beginning of 2023, will be performed at competitions in 2024. This gives the troupe time to perfect their routines, and their effort is shown through the awards they have won.

They compete in 2-3 regional competitions per year and one Nationals competition in the summer. Each time they go, they do spectacularly well. This year they will be competing at The United States Tournament of Dance, High Demand Dance Competition, and Elite Dance Challenge.

They attend dance conventions like Monsters Dance, and McManus brings in guest teachers like the famous dancers Savion Glover and Phil Wright. McManus has also been able to bring in the Radio City Rockettes.

Recently the Starlighters have performed at many different locations. In September they performed with the Rutgers cheerleaders at the Rutgers versus Temple football game. In December they performed again at Rutgers with the cheerleaders, but this time at a Lady Scarlet Knights basketball game. They performed at the Edison Tree Lighting this past holiday season as well.

In previous years, The Starlighters have performed at MSG for the Knicks, Carnival cruises, NJ Devils game, the Harlem Globetrotters, Walt Disney World, Nashville, TN and New York City.

A Legacy

When they walk into YSOD, dancers can leave all of their problems at the door. The staff is welcoming and makes sure to have a relationship with every member. Yvonne’s isn’t just a dance studio. It is a place for dancers to call home, explore their identity, and challenge themselves.

We still follow the traditions of discipline, respect, and accountability on the teaching side. Our teachers are all products of Yvonne’s School of Dance.

— Tracy McManus

In other words, the staff thinks Ambrosio would be happy to see that the studio is thriving just as it did when she owned it over four decades ago.

For more information about the studio, please visit their website: https://www.yvonnesschoolofdance.com/index.html

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About the Contributor
KATARINA MOUKAZIS '24, Staff Writer
A senior at Edison High School, Katarina Moukazis is a staff writer for the Journalism and Media elective. Outside of school, she does dance competitively for YSOD. In her free time, she likes to read and watch sports.
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