Beth Fowler School of Dance celebrates 40 years of teaching students in Kane and DeKalb

Beth Fowler cuts the ribbon during the 40 year anniversary open house of the Beth Folwer School of Dance held on Saturday June 15, 2024 in St. Charles.

The Beth Fowler School of Dance celebrated 40 years of business in Kane and DeKalb counties in June and founder Beth Fowler has no plans to slow down.

Fowler started the award-winning school of dance as a high school student in 1983 and has grown it into a nationally recognized dance academy that teaches hundreds of dancers each year with thousands of alumni, many of whom have gone on to lead successful professional dance careers.

Fowler was born and raised in Genoa, where she started dancing at a young age. By age 13, she was the youngest professional dancer at the Rockford Dance Company, and by 15, she was teaching lessons out of a studio in her parents’ home.

Fowler said being one of a few dancers in a small town meant everyone knew about her endeavors and that led to many families asking her to teach their children. Her teaching career started with giving free lessons to neighborhood kids. She eventually put an ad in the paper and the Beth Fowler School of Dance was born.

After graduating from high school, Fowler danced with the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy while maintaining her dance school. She said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She recalled frequently taking notes in Milwaukee on what her instructors did so she could be the best teacher and director for her students.

The reason why I can continue doing this forever is because of my amazing staff and the support from my family. My husband has been by my side through all this dance stuff since we were teenagers.”

—   Beth Fowler, owner of Beth Fowler School of Dance

Fowler married her high school sweetheart, Bob Fowler. In 1990, they built their first home together in Genoa with a dance studio in the back. By 1993, Fowler had been teaching dance classes for a decade and decided to expand her school by buying a studio in Sycamore. A year later, she opened a third location in Marengo.

The Beth Fowler School of Dance Genoa location

In 1996, Fowler bought a large facility at 303 W. Main St. in Genoa and consolidated the school to a single location. By the late 2000s, she had about 60 students in each class – and counting – so she bought the St. Charles facility at 3720 Illinois Ave. in 2009.

Beth Fowler School of Dance decal is displayed on the wall in St. Charles on Saturday June 15, 2024, during the 40 year anniversary open house.

Fowler still is in the dance studio every day, either leading classes or supervising, and said she has no thoughts about retiring.

“The reason why I can continue doing this forever is because of my amazing staff and the support from my family,” Fowler said. “My husband has been by my side through all this dance stuff since we were teenagers.”

While leading the school, Fowler continued her professional career for more than 30 years, dancing for several professional companies. She performed as the Arabian Queen in performances of “The Nutcracker” ballet until 2017, just before her 49th birthday.

“Once a dancer, always a dancer,” Fowler said. “It’s in your blood.”

All kinds of dance

Fowler has taught thousands of students in her career and her school teaches between 300 and 400 students every year. The school has 10 instructors who teach at both locations and they train in many styles of dance, including ballet and pointe, contemporary, jazz, lyrical, tap, hip-hop and acrobatics.

The school has three programs in which dancers can participate: the school of dance, the Beth Fowler Dance Company and the competitive dance program.

The school of dance is the training program where beginners start and consists of dancers ages 3 to 18. The Beth Fowler Dance Company, for which dancers must audition, is the school’s pre-professional and professional program of more than 30 dancers in eighth grade through college. Those in the dance company get the opportunity to dance professionally and teach at the school of dance.

“The best thing about teaching for 40 years is all of the people and families that become our extended family,” Fowler said. “We have a very unique dance family and it’s literally a family because I’ve watched these kids grow up.”

Fowler said she is very picky about her staff and 100% of the instructors are BFSD alumni who she has been training basically their whole lives. She said once her dancers graduate high school, many get dance degrees in college, some dance professionally and some stay to perform with the company and teach at the school.

“Because we’re 100% alumni, the staff is very tight-knit,” Fowler said. “They perform together, they grew up together, they support one another, and because this is the school that they grew up at, there is a special level of commitment and loyalty to the students and the program.”

Shows and performances

The two locations work in tandem and the school hosts three shows a year at the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb. Shows feature performances by company dancers and students from both locations. The theater productions are led by the company dancers, who perform the main roles. The school of dance students perform the children’s roles.

In preparation for the theater performances, the young students are paired up with company dancers, often referred to as their big sisters. Fowler said having a mentor to dance with onstage helps make the young students’ first performance a positive experience and prevents any stage fright.

“The kids bring so much color and fun and energy to the performances,” Fowler said. “Even our 3 year olds have the opportunity to dance in these performances and I feel that it’s very beneficial to their growth to be able to have fun onstage with their teachers and mentors.”

The competitive program was started in 2013 by Fowler’s daughter, Brooke Fowler-McDonagh, who directs and choreographs the program. The competition team has about 50 dancers ages 9 and older who are selected based on auditions and evaluations by instructors.

Trophy’s sit on a leg as dancers of the Beth Fowler School of Dance preform during the 40 year anniversary open house held on Saturday June 15, 2024, in St. Charles.

Beth Fowler said ballet is the foundation of all styles of dance and her school always has focused on fundamentals and technique rather than competition. She said she was hesitant to start a competitive program, but since her school began competing her dancers have won the national championship every year since 2013.

Fowler said the school does not push its dancers to compete and auditioning for the competitive program is completely optional. She said students are encouraged to compare themselves only with themselves and monitor their personal progression rather than compete with one another.

“We don’t have a competitive atmosphere at the studio. It’s very supportive,” Fowler said. “I think it’s because we are fundamentally a ballet school focused on technique that we do so well in competition.”

A family of dance

Fowler said what she loves most about her job is seeing so many kids grow up, often from age 3 to adulthood.

“They’re like my own children and there’s so much gratitude in watching them progress year after year,” Fowler said. “It’s so rewarding.”

Beth Fowler of Beth Folwer School of Dance and Lorraine Robinson talk to Gwen Rios 4, and mom Diana Sieciechowicz of St. Charles during the Beth Folwer School of Dance 40 year anniversary open house held on Saturday June 15, 2024, in St. Charles.

Every five years, the Beth Fowler School of Dance hosts an alumni performance in which all current and past students are welcome to participate. Fowler said those shows always are very emotional, but they are her saving grace because they help her cope with her seniors graduating and moving on to college, knowing it won’t be the last time they dance together.

“Even when they graduate from high school, it’s never done because they know they’re welcome back and they always come back,” Fowler said.

Fowler credits her staff’s dedication and her family’s support with the school’s growth and success as well as her ability to keep going for 40 years.

“They’re homegrown, they’re loyal, they’re dedicated, they’re hardworking and they care so much about the studio and its students,” Fowler said. “My staff is the reason that I can do what I do. They are the reason the school, the company and the competition program has grown to the level that it has.”

Beth Fowler talks at the start of the 40 year anniversary of the Beth Fowler School of Dance on Saturday June 15, 2024 during the open house.