Shelton studio kicking up heels for 75 years

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Kicks Dance Center owner Nancy Altieri, left, with daughters Julie Arcos and Christina Michaud. The studio, located off Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton, recently celebrated its 75th year in operation.

Kicks Dance Center owner Nancy Altieri, left, with daughters Julie Arcos and Christina Michaud. The studio, located off Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton, recently celebrated its 75th year in operation.

Kicks Dance Center / Contributed photo

SHELTON — Zita Carrano took over a dance studio in Bridgeport in the 1940s, a time when shows featured dancers in simple costumes, a silver tinsel-style backdrop and a live band.

Three quarters of a century later, Carrano’s studio — the former Zita Carrano Dance Studio now named Kicks Dance Center and run by the late owner’s daughter and granddaughters — uses lavish costumes and iPhones for musical accompaniment to create that “Broadway experience.”

But it is less the style and more the substance that has families coming back, generation after generation, to the studio that has called Shelton home for more than 40 years after relocating from the Park City.

“It’s beyond the technique … which they know and teach so well … it is the positivity, the building of self-esteem that has kept this place running,” said Sara Mayer, once a student at the studio and now an honorary ‘auntie’ to the young people now performing.

The owners say they pride themselves on creating a “safe environment where students can express emotion through art,” nurturing acceptance by encouraging students to use the common bond of dance to lift each other up and to instill positive self-image and confidence.

The studio offers dance instruction for all ages, starting at 3 and up to high school age.

“This is a wonderful place … I’ve built so many lasting friendships here, that’s why so many people keep coming back,” said Mayer, who started dancing with Carrano at 5, more than three decades ago, and now works for the operation.

Megan Baird said her mother attended the studio in the 1960s, and she and her sister, Carol Tammany, followed suit in the early 2000s. Baird said the family atmosphere led her to enroll her children, Lexi, 9, and PJ, 6, making it three generations hitting the Kicks Dance Center floor.

“There is no competition in here,” Baird said about the studio. “You are free to be yourself, develop your own love of dance … you are accepted here. For me, dance was an escape, it was so much fun. No pressure.”

Baird, a Shelton resident, loved the experience so much as a student, she has since returned as an instructor for the younger age groups.

Carrano passed the torch to her daughter, Nancy Altieri, who started dance training with her mother at 3 years old and began professional training in New York City by the age of 12. Altieri attended the renowned Broadway Dance Center and studied ballet at Steps of NYC and Ballet Etudes of Connecticut.

It was under Altieri that the studio’s annual production began to incorporate a Broadway flare.

Now Altieri’s daughters, Julie Arcos and Christina Michaud, are directing shows in the same place they learned the art of dance — a passion they now pass on to dozens of young people every year.

“It’s so emotional for me when I think about my time here. That’s why I keep coming back,” Mayer said. “There are so many special memories.”

Arcos said her family takes pride in the fact so many adults come back and tell them that their studio “was the one constant thing in their life that created a creative outlet for them and built their confidence, poise and friendships that have lasted a lifetime.”

Arcos recalled, as a child, how amazed she and her sister were at watching the business behind the scenes — seeing the classes and showcase from conception on paper to coming to life onstage.

“Everyone and everything has to be carefully thought about and planned out,” Arcos said. “My fondest memories have been of our spring group rehearsals where our students practice as we coordinate all of our scenes together.

“This is when you can see our dancers build their confidence and friendships and how much of a dance family we are together,” Arcos said. “The electricity and enthusiasm in the studio are unbeatable.”

Arcos said her mother and grandmother would take she and her sister to New York City where the girls would attend dance conventions and take classes with international teachers and performers.

“We were so fortunate to live so close to NYC and hop on the train to see Broadway shows and the Radio City Rockettes,” Arcos said. “This inspired us to dream bigger and eventually we were seeing some of our own students auditioning and eventually performing in those Broadway shows and at Radio City.

“It is such an incredible feeling to see your students start as a 3-year-old in your studio and grow up to be a professional dancer,” Arcos said.

The studio’s most recent Rockette, Marcella Kiernan, came back this year and performed in its alumni tap routine during Kicks Dance Center’s 75th anniversary show last weekend at the Klein Auditorium.

“Our main goal is to build confidence in each child and create a lifetime love of dance,” Arcos said. “Many children continue to dance throughout college on dance teams. Some make it a professional career, while some find their passion of working with children and become teachers. We are so thrilled to see them continue their love of dance throughout adulthood.”

For more information on Kicks Dance Center, visit https://www.kicksdancecenter.com/

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com