Carol Riley said she didn’t think she had what it took to succeed in dance when she first started out in the competition world as a child.
With the motivation and skills she received from the Hannah Kroner School of Dance, then based in Flushing, Queens, Riley went on to be a Radio City Rockette for seven years.
Riley is now the director of the school she trained in, now based in Albertson, inspiring a new generation of competition dancers.
“A few of the girls didn’t really have the confidence within themselves, they thought they couldn’t do it,” Riley said of her award-winning team’s members. “They joined the team because a teacher encouraged them, [telling them] ‘You’re not just here because we feel sorry for you, you’re here because you deserve to be here and know you are good and can become better.'”
The school’s 27-member competition team received the Association of Dance Competitions and Conventions Studio of Excellence award. The award is given to only one studio in the 2018 competition season.
The teams’ junior and mini members also received the Outstanding Studio Spirit award, for 12 and under. Members also received platinum awards, elite gold awards and numerous special judges awards.
The team will continue to compete in three regional competitions, two on Long Island and one in Queens, as the competition season continues.
The Hannah Kroner team consists of six minis, aged eight to 11, eight juniors, aged 11 to 14, and 13 seniors.
The team competes in 11 group routines, two trios, one duet, five solos and one production number with all members.
Riley said she’s proud of the team, but their success doesn’t come without hard work.
“A lot of these girls are with us at least three to four days a week,” Riley said, adding that students are at the studio for about five hours at at time.
Auditions start in June, this year’s will be held on Thursday, June 7 at 6 p.m. Auditions are open to students from other studios.
The summer is filled with intensive dance classes for the students to practice their skills, Riley said.
In September, the competition members start learning routines for the season which starts around March.
In addition to practicing routines, the students come in for classes in different dance styles to help hone their skills, Riley said.
“It does take a lot, you’re talking about young people who have a lot in their lives and social lives … and they really have to work around being focused,” Riley said. “This is what we help them to achieve, is learning to focus, learning to have a desire for something and going for it. You don’t have to be the best dancer you just have to have that desire.”
Samantha Pugliese, a 17-year-old member of the senior team, said she enjoys the hard work that goes into competing
Pugliese, who said she’s been with the school for five years, is competing in a solo this year.
This is Pugliese’s last season before graduating from the dance school.
“I’m very sad because I love my studio and love to dance, but I’m also very excited to go to college,” Pugliese, who will be going to the University of Richmond said. “I’m excited to see what [Richmond] has to offer and what I can bring from my studio.”
Continuing a dance education or career is not uncommon for Riley’s dancers, the director said.
Many Hannah Kroner graduates go on to study and teach dance, Riley said.
Shannon McGuinness and Olivia Scott, two teachers that serve as team leaders and choreographers for the mini and junior competition teams, are both former students of the school.
McGuinness said it’s great to extend the competition opportunity to younger girls, because growing up she didn’t have the chance to be a part of the competition world until further in her education.
The competitive nature is part of the allure for some of the young dancers, like 11-year-old Sophia Song, a member of the mini team.
“It feels good because you know that you worked hard enough to win,” Song said.
Nike Oshodi, a 13-year-old on the junior team, said competing is a lot of pressure, but when she’s done “it’s the best feeling ever.”
“It’s really stress relieving after putting in all these hard months,” Oshodi said.
The lessons students learn on the competition team will help them beyond the stage – helping them mature not only in dance, but in themselves and in life, Scott said.
“They’re getting confidence and getting teamwork and learning not to do everything just to win, but doing things to make ourselves feel better,” Scott said. “It’s a boost of confidence obviously when you win or get a high score, but its all about working the highest point and doing the best that you can.”
The team’s current members are Rebecca Arbitman, Onjinae Fann-Thomas, Eden Harel, Bridget Healey, Brooke Hoffman, Korina Hung, Marcella Joaquin, Kendall Krasinski, Carly Law, Emily Marotta, Emma Martins, Christina Massetti, Lauren O’Hara, Jessica O’Leary, Oshodi, Alexis Panebianco, Pugliese, Alssandra Santos, Dylan Shapiro, Hailey Shapiro, Michaela Shuster, Amy Smith, Song, Grace Taylor, Ava Woo, Ella Zhong and Brenda Zhong.
Members of the public are invited to watch the girls perform at the school’s end of the year performance, “The Wonder of Magic,” on June 3 at 2 p.m. at Mineola High School.