Right in Step
Silver City's Conservatory of Dance offers classes, costumes, a chance to perform and lessons to live by. Plus: Music Express arises, Walmart remodels, a.i.r. Coffee expands, Walgreen's waits, Backwoodsman changes hands and more business news.
In a micro-short, gauzy black-and-white wrap skirt, her white-blonde hair pulled back tight — save for her carefully curled bangs — Melinda Shaner looks as if she might have just stepped off the set of The Nutcracker. She rises from a chair and stands erect with no effort, it seems — her perfect posture the natural result of years of dance discipline. She trained in classical ballet with Paul Maure, who danced with the Paris Opera Company.
Eyes snapping with excitement, Shaner talks about the myriad benefits she believes youngsters gain from studying ballet.
"It's so many things," she says with a warm, genuine smile. "It's exposure to the arts. They learn how to follow direction. Oh, they gain music appreciation. And confidence!"
Her enthusiasm is infectious, magnetic. It's enough to make a grown woman want to pull on toe shoes and a tutu.
Indeed, dance lessons aren't just for children, Shaner insists.
"Yes, it's especially good for the little people," she allows. "They learn so many life lessons on the dance floor. And teens, it's so good for their posture, their poise, for developing grace." But she adds, "Our main purpose is to get dance out there to everyone — fat, thin, young, old. It doesn't matter. Everyone can dance."
Shaner owns and operates The Conservatory of Dance on Cottage San Road in Silver City. The school has just begun its third year, offering a full slate of classes for young and old, beginners and old hands.
Shaner opened her first studio in 1975. When she left California to relocate to New Mexico, she sold her thriving business — with 650 students — to one of her assistants.
"I've always loved the Southwest," she says, explaining the move. "We'd been coming here for years and finally decided that it was time to live here."
She was lucky to have a great Realtor and to find just the right house, she says. And soon after landing in Silver City, she found just the right building to start up her dance business. She strides elegantly through her two dance studios — large, airy rooms with mirrored walls and ballet barres. She flings open the door to a warehouse-sized space with brightly colored costumes hanging neatly on long, long racks.
"This sold me on the place," she says excitedly. "What a wonderful space for all the costumes!"
She leads the way past the dressing rooms where dancers can change in and out of their tights and spangles. A small bevy of little girls changes their clothes, excitedly preparing for their first ballet class of the new season.
Winding around to the front of the building, Shaner shows off her dancewear store, Studio II Dancewear. The store carries all the major lines of dance attire — Danskin, Leo's, Sansha and more, along with Capezio and Pointe shoes — for all ages.
"Well, the little girls' stuff is the really cute stuff, but we have leotards and things for grown-ups, too, things for all ages," she says. "Our inventory is reasonable. We want things to be affordable for families."
She endeavors to keep prices down for classes, too, she says. "We want them to be able to come — sisters, brothers, whole families!" Open class rates start at $8.
The school's main class offerings are in ballet, jazz and tap.
"That brings in musical theater," Shaner adds. She has directed and choreographed local productions, partnering with Theatre Group New Mexico and the Expressive Arts department at WNMU. Currently she is working on Theatre Group New Mexico's production of Oklahoma!, set for the first two weekends in October.
Shaner teaches many of the classes at Conservatory of Dance herself, but also has other specialists on board: Local dentist Gail Willow teaches salsa and Latin dance (see "The Dancing Dentist," August); Judith Lawrence teaches modern dance; Elizabeth Edwards teaches "Dance in Depth," a stretch class that emphasizes and enhances movement awareness. And Crystal Netz-Arenivar offers Pilates, an exercise system that builds balance and strength, two things that are beneficial to dancers of all styles.
Shaner's own specialty is ballet, which also is her favorite and the foundation for all dance, she says.
"I'm not going to be a professional ballerina. For one thing, I don't have the body for it. My size is all wrong," she says with a laugh. "But ballet is important. It is the base of all of them. You want to do other things? Like jazz or musical theater? That's fine, but you still need ballet."
As if on cue, that clutch of little girls — now attired in their own gauzy, short skirts and tights — is lined up at the ballet barre in the big dance room, eager to begin their first ballet lesson of the new season. Shaner bounces into the room to meet them, calling each by name.
They stretch and warm up their legs, the students watching and doing their best to follow their teacher's movements, occasionally catching their own shy reflections in the mirrored walls. They start out tentative, then flex and bend with some amount of grace as they remember their steps, the accompanying arm gestures.
In between calling out steps, Shaner asks her students what they've been up to over the summer. She listens with genuine interest. A student in the group about 11 years old, now in her third year of classes, exhibits a fluid ease that Shaner notices and comments upon.
"Wonderful! That's just right," she says. The student smiles back and stands a little taller, with even more poise. Shaner beams. After all, this is just the sort of thing — poise, grace — that she's been talking about.
Conservatory of Dance, 2020 Cottage San Road, Silver City,
Back in Business
Like the metaphoric phoenix rising from literal ashes, Music Express is reopening at 1302 N. Bennett St., near the New Church of the Southwest Desert by the Silver City RV Park. Dave Murphy's music store was the site of a break-in and arson on July 24, the fire spreading throughout the Hudson Plaza strip mall on Hwy. 90 in Silver City and displacing Music Express and a dozen other tenants. Murphy's inventory was also destroyed. But Murphy, who also owns a music store in Safford, Ariz., says the kindness shown him by the community persuaded him to stay in town. He plans to be back in business at the new location, behind the Food Basket, on Sept. 1. 388-9405.
On the Move. . .
The Wellness Coalition is moving to a new location, right in the heart of downtown Silver City. The non-profit agency is taking up residence at 409 N. Bullard St., former home of the recently defunct Star Mountain Trading Company. (See "Going, going, gone. . ." section below.) A spokesman for TWC says the new quarters are larger and that the storefront windows on Bullard Street are appealing to the agency.
Moonstruck Art Gallery also has a new home. The gallery has just moved a couple doors up the street from its old location to new digs at 106 W. Yankie, the former location of Elemental Art. Moonstruck will celebrate with a grand opening Sept. 19, 2-5 p.m., in conjunction with the Gila River Festival Art Walk.
Wally World Update
Deming's Walmart is hiring approximately 70 associates to help with a massive remodel, begun last month and expected to be completed in October. Communications from corporate headquarters say the Deming store is to receive a full remodel from the inside-out and will represent the latest in Walmart's store design and customer experience. The new design will feature an "open" look, with wider aisles, low-profile shelving, bright interior paint and easy-to-read signage to help customers find the products they need. The store's new layout is designed to make shopping for everyday items easier and faster by putting products customers purchase the most right at hand. The store will remain open during the renovations; maps of the store layout will be available at the entrance and directional signage will be located throughout the store. The majority of construction and moving will be completed during the overnight hours to make shopping easier for customers.
At news of the Deming Walmart renovation, the Silver City rumor mill promptly kicked into high gear, saying that Silver City's Big Box on Hwy. 180 would shut down by the end of this year, consolidating local operations into Deming. No way, says Silver City Walmart manager Johnny Williams. Though Williams says he, too, has heard the rumor, Deming's remodel is routine and the Silver City store soon will get its own facelift to bring it up to the new Walmart appearance and shopability standards. "Las Cruces had theirs, now it's Deming's turn, and they're working their way up to us," Williams says. Silver City: 538-2222; Deming: 546-1094.