Carola recently added 25 percent more space to The Dance Factory, located at 24 Hamilton Street, by tearing through her studio wall to annex a neighboring office space. The expansion was a big move for Carola, one that was a long time coming. The local dance instructor, who began dancing at age 7 and opened The Dance Factory 34 years ago, currently teaches 57 classes per week, including a class at Galway School District and Lake Avenue Elementary School. Carola also hosts a summer camp.
Classes include ballet, hip-hop, tap, jazz, lyrical, African and Zumba, and are geared for ages 2 1/2 years up through high school. Carola has a total of 450 students this year, and that number will only increase before the November cut off, when classes are filled to the brim. At this rate, there's no reason to expect another significant jump before the 2012 season begins next fall.
"We've grown even through this bad economy - but we've always grown from year to year; it has never plateaued," Carola said.
That's no surprise. The studio is well-known for having a friendly environment that invites young dancers to explore their talents while a dozen or so of their parents hang out as classes are in session.
"There's a whole lot more than dance that happens here," she said, pointing to the strong bond between The Dance Factory's families and students. "I notice that the kids who come here grow [their] confidence, physically and mentally."
For Carola, who finds sincere joy in connecting with each and every student (yes, all 450 of them), the non-competitive nature of her programs are vital to confidence-
"We focus on the individual achievements; we don't want to pit kids, friends and siblings against one another," she said.
The Dance Factory may be competition-free, but that doesn't leave dancers without anything to work toward. Together, they spend 10 months planning and preparing for an enormous production in June; it's the grand finale of their annual lesson program, which mimics the school-year schedule.
A lot of hard work goes into the production, and Carola treats it like nothing less than a New York City Ballet performance. The sets are flown in from California, and nearly $10,000 is spent on costuming.
"The more work that goes into it, the better the end result," she said. "I think the shows leave the kids feeling very happy and proud."
Although she admits the expansion allows room for another instructor, and most likely the need for one, Carola isn't ready yet to handoff even one of her student groups. It's important to her to get to know every dancer that steps through The Dance Factory door.
"I am the luckiest lady to have this job. It's amazing," she said. "I work with great kids and great families, and their support shows I'm doing something right."
Though Carola credits part of her growth to the economy - "I'm finding that parents are putting their children first," she said - the majority of Dance Factory families point to the sole instructor. Just look at the comments on her website: (www.dancefactorysaratoga.com).