Longtime Shelton studio owner making dance more inclusive

SHELTON — Jill Chase loves everything about dance.

The lifelong Shelton resident spent her early years performing for others but found her true passion in passing on her expertise — and enthusiasm — to thousands of aspiring dancers as a teacher.

“Teaching dance is my life’s passion. It is important to pass the love of dance to young people, as the love of dance will then be passed from generation to generation,” said Chase, a dance instructor for 58 years, the past 45 as owner of the Jill Chase Dance Studio in Shelton.

“Dance is an outlet for students from stress, helps in daily schoolwork, a confidence builder, a way to gain poise, carry oneself in good posture, and learning to have faith and belief in oneself,” she said.

Thousands of students have graced the studio, including multiple generations of families.

“The students gain lifelong friends, respect for others and confidence to carry through life,” Chase said. “The studio is known by the dancers as their second home.”

And her passion — and skills — as an instructor have not been lost to her contemporaries. Chase was recently honored with the New York Dance Spectrum, Inc., Service Award for not only her work with young dancers but also her dedication to community building through dance.

“Jill celebrates inclusion and encourages students from multi-cultural, special needs, and diverse backgrounds to enrich their education through dance,” said E. Laura Hausmann, New York Dance Spectrum, Inc., Director.

Chase’s Shelton studio includes additional faculty members with certification in special education, and children and families travel from surrounding communities to participate in this unique student community forged through a common shared interest in dance experiences, she said.

“Every student is equally included in all dance opportunities, without any selection process,” Hausmann said. “The goal is to build student confidence and self-organizational skills. This is the most unique aspect of Jill Chase Studio. Chase does not pick and choose which dancer has certain opportunities. Chase places the needs of each child above the practical and entrepreneurial needs of her studio.”

In addition to her business, Chase continues service at inner city outreach and convalescent homes with student performances.

Chase’s primary community service effort is her work with Kidspirit, a student group which performs for seniors in convalescent and assisted living centers, community centers, and for low-income families.

“Kidspirit is a group of students preparing for a Christmas show which benefits Project Learn, children from the inner city of Bridgeport. They have lunch, a show, and a gift from Santa,” Chase said.

Chase created Kidspirit, a musical theater production group of her studio dancers devoted to community service. The goal of Kidspirit is to benefit various charities and community programs for the children and adults,as well as, providing entertainment and happiness.

Project Learn is a program of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport which provides after school and summer programs for elementary school children in Bridgeport. Kidspirit is under its umbrella.

“The dancers are happy to give, which makes someone happy who is less fortunate,” she added. “The inner-city children have a wonderful time and enjoy interacting on stage with the dancers.”

Chase’s love of dance took shape during her time at the famous Jacob’s Pillow dance center and school in Becket, Mass., and as a former company member of the Ballet Society of Connecticut.

She emerged from a background of recreational dance. As soon as she recognized this, she immersed herself into open classes in New York City to progress her studies in the realm of dance.

Chase remains a longtime member of Dance Masters of America, a national organization of dance teachers, providing development through the voice of other studio owners around the country.

Chase was recognized for her solid membership and became the National President of Dance Masters of America. During her tenure, Chase developed the organization’s teacher training school, the signature of the organization, which continues to attract educators from all over the world.

“Jill presents students with a calm, peaceful, and organized learning experience,” Hausmann said. “Students learn the methods and means to be prepared for class and to retain information.”

She said she has watched Chase’s annual concert held at Klein Memorial Auditorium — and it is impressive to see 2 and 3-year-old children enter and exit the stage and know every step without an assistant to follow.

“Students know what to do and work cooperatively with others in the class with special needs,” she said.

The Shelton dance studio offers students opportunities to learn numerous dance forms, with classes from through college age, ending with adult classes. Classes include tap, ballet, jazz.

Chase, also director of the Sacred Dance Choir for the Huntington Congregational Church, can often be found creating liturgical pieces for the church.

“I am especially proud of my Forever Friends dance class for special needs,” Chase said. “To see the dancers enjoying themselves and conquering the dance steps which were beyond their reach is life changing. The love between the dancers and instructors melts my heart.”

Equally known for her work with national teaching organizations, her service includes national president of Dance Masters of America, principal and faculty member of the teachers training school of Dance Masters of America, and president of the Connecticut Dance Alliance. As an additional service initiative, Chase immerses students in fundraising campaigns for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

“Within my career I am mostly proud of my teaching methods,” Chase said. “Giving the love of dance to each dancer is very important to me. Teaching the correct technique is so important, which prevents injuries.

“I am still driven to teach dance so that all can experience the gift of dance,” she added. “It is a way for me to give back.”