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Norwich - Diane Elder used a three-part motto to define her career drive for excellence.
"Dance Hard. Dream Big. Do Your Thang."
Now, she's turned that motto into the name of her new dance studio in downtown Norwich. Elder opened 3-D Dance Studio in a former brick mill building at 282 Franklin St. on Sept. 4. She now has 30 students ranging in age from 3 to 60-something in classes that range from jazz, hip-hop and step to lyrical, ballet and Zumba. She also offers a "Ladies in Heels" class for women.
Elder, 30, a 2000 graduate of Norwich Free Academy, said her own specialty is lyrical dance. After high school, she earned certificates from the Broadway Dance Center in New York and the Debbie Reynolds dance school in California.
"I have loved dance ever since I was young," Elder said. "I saw the movie 'Tap' with Gregory Hines and (Sammy Davis Jr.) I just wanted to dance all the time. It allows me to just express myself through dance, and as I'm older, it's amazing to see kids learn to express themselves with dance."
But loving dance and even taking the stage professionally - as Elder has done as a dancer for Billy Joel and Weird Al Yankovic - and opening a professional business are quite different. Elder took her first steps in that direction to the Norwich Community Development Corp. office on Main Street.
NCDC oversees the city's $3.3 million downtown revitalization program that offers small grants and loans to downtown businesses.
After much guidance in writing a business plan and preparing to open her dance studio, Elder qualified for a lease rebate of $7,000 per year for four years. It doesn't sound like much, but for Elder, it was the difference.
"It was actually a weight lifted off my shoulders," Elder said. "They have the best customer service there. They were really caring there and wanted to make sure I had everything done properly. ... They have allowed me to expose other people to dance."
Elder said she wants to keep her classes affordable at $35 per month and $10 for drop-in classes. She also wants to offer scholarships to students who show great devotion to dance. Already, she has invited dedicated older teenagers to help out at the studio in lieu of payment.
Elder also runs an afterschool dance program for the Norwich public school system's Aspire program. Several students in that program have spread the word and joined her evening classes on Franklin Street. Some have become instructors.
On Tuesday, several younger students kicked off their shoes and hit the dance floor with cartwheels and flips before instructor Lillian Cook corralled them for some pre-dance stretches. Cook, 17, graduated in June from the Norwich Free Academy and now attends Three Rivers Community College.
"If I could, I would be here 24-7," Cook said during a brief break in Tuesday's jazz class. "This is my favorite place to be."
Alejandra Garcia, 9, of Jewett City just started dance classes in September. Alejandra said she loved learning the leaps that Cook was teaching a few minutes earlier. Her dance classmate, Olivia Doyle, also 9 of Jewett City, couldn't quite decide.
"I like all the turns, and everything else," she said.
Elder said she probably has five girls to every boy in the various classes but is trying to reach out to the boys as well. She offers a hip-hop class just for boys and already has two boys in her ballet class. Both are football players and have heard from their coaches that ballet will help with their flexibility and balance.
Vincente Velazquez, 16, of Norwich said he first took Elder's class in Aspire when he was in eighth grade. He stayed with it and now teaches hip-hop at 3-D Dance Studio.
"I love it," he said. "A lot of kids are coming here."
Brian Doyle, Olivia's father, sat in the lounge as her daughter attended class.
"She's a young and very energetic coach," Doyle said. "The kids just love her."