Janine Walsh, the co-owner/director of Walker’s Gymnastics & Dance in Lowell, MA, knows firsthand the importance of family—not only because she’s part of a successful, family-run business with her brother and sister-in-law, but also because she considers everyone who steps through the door at Walker’s a part of her extended family. This year at Headliners Nationals, that family was particularly successful, earning awards such as Choreographer of the Year, first place in teen line and teen class, and third place in the Platinum Circle. Cynthia Huang, one of Walker’s senior dancers, brought home the coveted “Miss Headliner” crown.
So what’s the secret to this studio’s success? Walsh says it’s the top-notch teachers she’s hired, along with her daughter Jaclyn K. Walsh who teaches competition dance.
Your students are incredibly well-rounded. How do you achieve that?
When my sister, Denise, and father, Reginald, first created Walker’s 31 years ago, it was a gymnastics studio. Denise was a gymnast who competed internationally on many U.S. teams, so the studio came out of her training and professional experience. As the program developed, we realized that our gymnasts needed dance training in order to enhance their abilities. We went off in search of quality people to train our gymnasts in dance, and because that was such a successful crossover, we now offer full gymnastic and dance programs.
How do you get kids on the comp team?
We don’t hold a formal audition because most of the students who advance to our competition team are from our studio. That makes it easy for us to place them in routines where they’ll make a good fit. If a dancer wants to join our team and isn’t already a member of the studio, we ask that she come take classes so that we can decide where she fits into our program.
How do you work with both your competition team and the non-comp kids at your studio?
We do not use our combined technique classes to run competition routines, even if we have a competition that weekend. That’s not fair to the non-competition dancers. The technique classes are what make stronger dancers and better artists, so ultimately it affects their competition performance quality.
Our competition team isn’t just for the most talented dancers at the studio. We focus on creating experiences and opportunities for all of our dancers. At competition, we make sure the students we bring are there to hold their heads high and maximize their training.
What performance opportunities exist for your non-comp students?
The recital we put on at the end of the year is for everyone. We perform a full-length production like one you’d see on Broadway. This past year we did The Sound of Music and the year before we did Wicked. This kind of show holds everyone’s attention—even the dads and grandfathers love it!
How do you make sure all your dancers feel special?
We rotate who gets the lead roles in the recital each year. We want to make sure that by the time each dancer graduates high school, they’ve performed a lead role twice.
We are committed to finding quality teachers—those who are good teachers and good people. How you treat people matters. The faculty here is part of our family, and it’s a blessing.
Photo courtesy of Walker’s Dance