Hazel Boone Studios: En Pointe

Shop Girl by Kitty Kaufman

Ninety-four years ago a 16 year-old young woman started a small dance studio in Dorchester, MA. The year was 1910 and the woman was Hazel Boone. Fifty years ago her 20 year-old daughter left Broadway to return home to run what had become the Hazel Boone Studios. The year was 1954 and the woman was Sandra Simpson Philpott. Six years ago in 1998 when she was 29, Holly Simpson Costa became the third director of the studio that bears her grandmother's name when her own mother retired.

In 2010 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Hazel Boone Studios. And although times have changed, the skills that make a good teacher remain the same. Drive, patience, creativity, the ability to make reluctant feet move to the music, building self-esteem, and choreographing impossible steps still rule in the room with the mirrors and the barre.

Sandra Simpson Philpott, along with her sisters: Shirley Simpson, Norma Boone DiMatteo, Hazel Simpson Lunardo and Marilyn Simpson Dalzell carried the mantle of their mother's 44-year triumph. As they outgrew each space the studio moved several times in the Tremont, Boylston, and Mass Avenue area. They opened suburban studios in Hingham, Walpole, Weymouth, Canton and others. They took their mother's focus on ballroom and tap and grew their classes in ballet, musical theater and jazz.

Hazel Boone and Sandra Philpott each spent 44 years in the studio. Eighty-eight years later, director Holly Costa offers tap, ballet, and pointe along with jazz and hip hop. After studying musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, she graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in education.

She is very much today's woman yet she holds with tradition. Like her mother, she is an active member of the Dance Teachers Club of Boston, of which her grandmother was a charter member. As they did, she takes her students to Manhattan for classes and to Radio City Music Hall. And as they started out by teaching girls who were nearly their own age, she taught her first class at 15.

Unlike so many girls who only dream of becoming a Rockette, Philpott is one of the lucky ones. When she was 10 her mother took her to the Music Hall and after, she said, "I can do that!" and later, she did. With her eye for spotting talent and molding professional dancers, more than 20 of her students made the transition from studio to Broadway. Some days, they said, it was fun but it was never easy. The commitment meant years of classes and practicing intricate routines, of learning not to rush the music, of being corrected week after week in a very hands-on way that probably wouldn't fly in today's studio.

Philpott poked backs, stretched feet, corrected shoulders, pushed turnouts, and if your leg was not quite high enough, helped you get it to where it was just right. "No one objected and I was always tougher on the ones who had the talent." Her daughter knows all about that. "In my studio we have to find ways of correcting without touching. Even though I got a lot of training from being 'fixed,' now it is always hands off. You have to know your students well before you know whose leg you can lift," Costa observed.

What do they think about each other's methods? Costa on Philpott: "She has high expectations. She is always optimistic that any student can learn which is true of any good dance teacher. Philpott on Boone: "She had such presence." Costa on Boone: "Her passion for dance was infectious." Philpott on Costa: "She does it all without raising her voice. I am so proud of her."

What they do is teach, and what they teach they teach well. For nearly 100 years these women have cultivated and shared their love of dance. In the process thousands of shy, brazen, clumsy, nimble, young, old, talented and ordinary students learned to stand up straight, get off their heels, put their shoulders down, stop looking at the floor, do it again and smile. P. S. In 2010 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the studio. In 2011 I restarted my dance lessons.

© 2004
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