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Palmer Township dance studio celebrating 80th anniversary with weekend recitals

By Melinda Rizzo
on June 13, 2014 at 10:00 AM, updated June 13, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Nardi Dance Studios has a lot to celebrate.

A Northampton County fixture for eight decades, Nardi Dance Studios and Performing Arts Center is celebrating its 80th anniversary of continuously teaching young people how to dance. Four recitals will be performed this weekend at Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem.

Tammy Liiro, co-owner, artistic and executive director for Palmer Township-based Nardi Dance Studios, says four generations of families have passed through the dance school, and the longevity of the enterprise surprises even her.

"We are the longest running dance studio in the country, and I just find that an amazing, remarkable thing," Liiro explains.

The upcoming recitals -- happening tonight, Saturday and Sunday -- at Zoellner are proof of the commitment Liiro and her husband, Robert Lirro, share. The Liiros continue the legacy of the late Louis Nardi, who founded the Nardi Dance Studios in 1934. At the time, Nardi Dance Studios operated out of the State Theatre in Easton.

"We have an opening number dating from 1934, from the musical 'Anything Goes,' which was also the year the (popular) show opened on Broadway," Liiro says.
Liiro credits dance as an enduring passion, as discipline and as a creative outlet, all factoring into the success of Nardi Dance Studio.

Even during tough economic times, the studio has endured. "Somehow we got through those (lean) years. People want entertainment, and dance has always been something people wanted to participate in," Liiro says.

Liiro says her approach hasn't changed much, since taking over the school's day-to-day operations in 1986 from husband Robert.

"What has changed is that kids are busy – really too busy – than they were years ago. But they still want to learn the (classic) dances, ballet, tap, jazz and modern," Liiro explains.

Also included are contemporary dance, which is more akin to popular reality television dance programming, along with hip-hop.

"We have more boys come for hip-hop classes, and then decide they also want to learn tap or jazz," Liiro says.

Nardi Dance Studios alum Brittany Smith's love of dance is contagious. Smith will perform with former alumnae in this week's Zoellner performances.

Smith, also of Palmer Township, began dancing at Nardi when she was 3 years old, and her young daughter Rhiley Wheeler, now 8, began dancing when she was 3 years old. "Nardi has always been my second home, and I wanted my daughter to have that same experience," Smith says.

Smith says she hopes to teach dance at Nardi Dance Studios next year.
But for now, being part of the 80th celebration represents something much bigger for her.

"Being part of the 80th (celebration) is a huge event. We're coming together to (mark) that grand experience," Smith says.

Nardi Dance Studios Get Set for Fall

Reprinted from the Palmer-Forks Patch By Anthony Rando

Co-owner says longest-running dance studio in the Lehigh Valley is about to kick off its fall schedule.
Thanks to the prevalence of TV shows like "Dancing With The Stars," more people than ever are exposed to the art and competitive nature of dance. But for Nardi Dance Studios in Palmer Township, that’s been the status quo since 1934.

Nardi Dance Studios, found on S. Greenwood Avenue, take on students ages 3 to 18 in a variety of styles, like ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and others, as well as some gymnastics.

Each season, the studios' 12 instructors teach around 500 students in more than 100 different classes per week. Classes are staggered in such a way that students of any age can learn, even if they've never taken dance before. "The major thing is to make sure the kids love the arts," said Tammy Liiro, co-owner and artistic director of Nardi Dance Studios. more

Liiro, who has been dancing since age 9, is a Palmer resident and attended Easton Area High School. Many of her students go on to earn substantial scholarships to dance, theater and fine arts programs. "I'm not a competition school," she said. "I believe it's about the education, and the experience."

Not many dance studios can say that they've taught four generations of Lehigh Valley families, and even fewer can boast such a rich history as Nardi Dance Studios. In fact, Liiro says, Nardi is the longest-running dance studio in the Lehigh Valley.

In 1934, renowned theater director and choreographer Louis Nardi began his studio in the State Theatre in downtown Easton. In 1965, after Nardi's death, the studio was taken over by his protege, Robert Liiro. He met his wife Tammy in a ballroom dance class. In 1982, Tammy Liiro became the artistic director. "We didn't change the name because it was such a well-known studio," she said. She explained how, for a while, theirs was the only business in the State Theatre, before its revitalization in the early '80s.

In 1986, the Liiros purchased a Palmer Township orchard and began construction of their new building, which would eventually include five studios, offices and an upstairs living space for their family. "What makes us unique is our observation windows," said Tammy Liiro. "Parents can watch classes from the lobby."

Nardi even takes it a step further--all of the studios have cameras that feed to a monitor in the lobby, where family members can watch the class as it progresses. The idea is to get the students used to being watched, and not let it distract them. It's good practice for their recitals, which are held at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.
The fall schedule for Nardi Dance Studios, at 380 S. Greenwood Ave., begins on Saturday, Sept. 10. To register for classes, call the studio or visit during one of its Open House dates, which can be found on the website.

Business: Tale as Old as Time

By rzar
As we head toward 2012, longtime studio owners take a moment to reflect on their success.
A good sign of a strong studio is one that lasts - consistently bringing in students despite hard times, the changing dance industry and a failing economy. DT talked to studio owners whose businesses have stood the test of time and asked for the secrets to their longevity.
Paulette Harwood
Paulette's Ballet Studio  
(250 - 300 students)
Needham, MA
Years open: 52
"I danced on Broadway for 10 years and just loved it, and I wanted my daughters to love dancing like I did. So I started my studio very selfishly to teach my own girls, Pauline, Paula and Paulette, Jr. (I'd married a Paul). They all grew up in the school, learned to teach from me and went on to dance professionally. I'm a lucky mom.
"To celebrate our 50th anniversary, my daughters went behind my back and got in touch with students from all over the country who had been with the studio since my first year. They all came back and performed dances that they'd learned when they were dancing with me! I could hardly see it through the tears in my eyes. And my daughters, who hadn't performed together since their high school days, danced for me. Seeing the three of them made my heart sing. It was kind of a love fest. I don't know how else to put it."
Marcia Fellows
Marcia's School of Dance
(200 students)
Appleton, WI
Years open: 50
"I started my studio in the basement of  my home in 1961. Since the studio is still attached to my home, I'm available to answer the phone at all times. Customers want to talk with a person, not a machine.
"My faculty, including myself, continue our dance education throughout the year at dance workshops. This keeps us up to date, so we can continue to share our love for dance with every student."

Tammy Liiro
Nardi Dance Studios & Performing Arts Center 

(500 students)
Easton, PA
Years open: 77
"Nardi Dance Studio opened in 1934, and my husband and I acquired it in 1965. We are proud to have four generations of students who have learned to dance at our studio, which means some of our preschoolers who are attending now had great-grandmothers who used to attend."
"A good studio depends on having good relationships with students and their parents. We have always allowed parents to view classes through observation windows as well as TV monitors. After doing that all these years, we found that the parents have grown to love the arts and to appreciate what it really takes to become a great dancer."
"In recent years, students are busier than ever, and I feel a great responsibility to maintain class and rehearsal schedules that help them obtain every opportunity they can, in and out of the studio. After all, that's what we are training them for."


Angie Hohl
Jan's School of Dance
(400 students)
Evansville, IN
Years open: 53
"I started taking dance from the studio's original owner, Jan Stovall, when I was 3. In 2000 she retired, and I bought the studio from her. I have tried to keep up the qualities that Jan valued. Most importantly, I try to instill positive life lessons that the students will carry with them. I define success as when students leave the studio feeling good about themselves."