STERLING – Sharon Wiltz got a taste for dance instruction nearly 80 years ago, when as a second-grade student, she directed first-graders in a Christmas program.
“I had the little kids dress in snow suits and come in on a sled,” said Wiltz, who was Sharon Dale back then. “Then they got up and did a little dance. I remember that.”
That helped lead to the formation of the Dale Dance Studio, started in 1947 by Sharon and her mother, Alice. It began at the family home in Sterling, then moved to the Moose hall, the second floor of the Sterling Coliseum, a since-torn down telephone building, and its current location at 6 E. 23rd St.
In 1963, Sharon’s younger sister, Julie Dale, joined the studio after graduating from the University of Illinois; 59 years later, she still is teaching dance.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dale Dance Studio, an open house will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. June 26 at the studio. Former and current students are invited to attend, eat pizza and cake, and tell stories from their days of dancing instruction.
Money also will be collected to go toward a scholarship to be awarded to a student who wants to pursue dance and/or the performing arts in college. Those wishing to contribute to or apply for the scholarship can Google daledancescholarship. The deadline is Aug. 1, and a winner will be announced on Sept. 1.
Julie Dale, 79, still teaches at the studio five nights a week, and has about 20 students, ranging from age 4 to the upper 60s. She teaches ballroom, tap, ballet, jazz and tumbling – a nod to her younger days as a gymnast. She says she can lift her legs over her head, even better than the Radio City Rockettes and their famous kick line.
“I can do it better than a Rockette,” Dale said. “The Rockettes aren’t that good.”
She still gets a kick out of teaching willing students eager to learn the basics of dancing properly.
“Teaching people how to dance is thrilling,” Dale said. “If you’re standing in front of me and you don’t know right from left, and I’m teaching you steps and I see you move, and then you move and then you do the steps, and then you actually do it with music, it’s thrilling.”
A recent fall at home, however, has sidelined Dale for a bit. She is recovering at Pinecrest Community in Mount Morris, and hopes to be released in about 10 days. She’ll then resume teaching a class at Rock Valley College in Rockford, ideally on June 17, and get back to teaching students at the Dale Dance Studio sometime after the open house.
“Just to see the expression on their faces when they learn something, and the happiness they have from doing it, that’s why I do this,” Dale said.
Wiltz stepped away from teaching some 47 years ago, as she and her late husband, Jim, were raising a family. Sharon did help her husband with 35 musicals at Dixon High School, where the auditorium is named after him.
“I turned my dancing ability into helping him with the musicals,” Wiltz said.
Wiltz, 87, got a lot of satisfaction from teaching her students.
“The fun part is the people and the children that I met,” Wiltz said. “I won’t say it was the mothers, but it was the kids themselves and to see them progress.
“One little student that I thought was never going to make it, she’d come in and sit on the floor, and she was nothing. She didn’t have any rhythm. She didn’t have this. She didn’t have that.
“But she just kept coming. Pretty soon, she graduated and she started her own studio in Sterling. She was very successful. To see the growth of what you’re doing come through in the kids, that was the most exciting part.”
Wiltz noted she taught mostly girls, but had a few boys mixed in there as well. One of them, Phil Huber, went on to become a famous marionette who has performed all over the United States.
“He gives me credit for giving him the motivation to have action in the marionettes and have them dance,” Wiltz said. “There weren’t very many boys, but the ones I had were jewels.”
It wasn’t just dance lessons she was passing on to her students.
“What it gave the kids was so much confidence in themselves,” Wiltz said. “I could just see it come out from the shy little ones. The rewards are great.”