UNION CITY, Ind. — Sandy Miller, former owner of Sandy’s School of Dance, was presented one of the two special awards at the recent Union City Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet and awards night.
The award was for her studio being in the Union City Community for 50 years. The award was presented by Ron Pruitt, outgoing president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Becoming an entrepreneur at the age of 16, Miller became interested in dance when she was around 6 or 7.
“I spent a lot of time with my best friend, Suzanne Mote,” Miller recalled. “She took lessons off of Helen Claire Varnell in Greenville in an upstairs studio. I’d go with Suzanne to dance classes and fell in love with it. I asked Mom and Dad if I could take classes. I always wanted to be like Suzanne. She and her family danced forever.”
Her parents, the late Bob and Helen Stebleton, allowed her to do that, and she and her sister, Shirley Dohme, attended classes.
“My parents were musical people as well,’” Miller said. “They danced together as partners. Shirley and I used to go to nursing homes and we were known as the Stebleton Top Hatters. It was just she and I going to the minstrels in town and would get involved in any type of talent-type show. We danced for a long time.”
Miller said she ended up going to Winchester, to a studio run by Mark Ross, after her sister stopped dancing.
“He was more Broadway,” Miller said. “He was a really good instructor. I spent a number of years with him, and when he said he would be selling the business, I bought him out.”
She went on, “I started out with absolutely nothing. I remember my dad bought me a desk to put in my first studio. I just knew I needed to do this. My studio motto has been ‘Believe in yourself and all things are possible.’ I told them [students] to follow their dreams.”
Her Sandy’s School of Dance’s first studio was located at the southeast corner of Main and Columbia streets, and now it’s upstairs at 236 1/2 N. Columbia in Union City.
“When I first started the studio, I had 26 students performing in our first production ‘At the Toy Shop,’” she said. “It has exploded into around 200 to 250 students each year. We used to have our shows at the West Side auditorium in Union City and now we are having them in Winchester High School’s auditorium. It holds close to 1,000 people and we usually sell out.”
In fact, that’s where she is having the studio’s 50th anniversary production that she is calling “Let’s Celebrate.” It will be held May 6 and 7 at 7 p.m. in Winchester.
“Tickets are available at the door,” said Miller, whose studio teaches ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, and it just started offering gymnastics.
“In the past, I have also done belly dancing, disco and country line dancing.” she said.
Miller went into partnership with her daughter, Jennifer Bissell, in 2007 and, in 2012, gave the studio to her daughter.
“It has been a gift for me to give to family, friends and the community,” Miller said. “I never felt like it was a job…again it was a gift. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. It was a turning point in my life.”
Miller is now 66, and, even though she retired four years ago, is still working part-time at the studio.
“We have gone from a record player, to a reel-to-reel tape recorder, to cassettes and to CD through the years,” she said. “Music has changed so much and the dancing style as well,” she said.
According to her, a new teacher at the studio, Lindsay Hunt, has brought new life to the stage with hip hop and lyrical ballet.
“We have students from as little as age 3 to a college class on stage performing,” Miller said. “We also do have some boys. Now, I mainly help with the little kids and do some choreography.”
She also orders all the costumes through the mail, and is in the studio during visitor’s week, a time where parents can come in and watch their children.
Some of her former students have gone on and made names for themselves in the industry.
“Mandy Griffith used to teach here but moved to Chicago for awhile and danced there,” Miller said. “Natalie Anderson is working for a studio in Iowa, and Vicki Applegate Reed was a Bengals cheerleader.”
A local male, Jan Aukerman, even took classes at her studio and now he and Becky Dirksen do country partner and line dancing, including entertaining Wednesday night at Stateline Heritage Days, Union City’s main festival of the year. Sandy’s School of Dance also used to perform on the same nights.
Miller, who does her own choreography, said she doesn’t have a clue how many students she has taught over the years.
“There are too many to count,” said Miller, who noted that the studio is usually open Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 9 p.m.
“My daughter wasn’t sure this was her thing,” Miller said. “She is wonderful. She’s got great ideas and her shows are fabulous.”
Jennifer’s daughter, Kelsea Miller, has danced ever since she was 2 1/2 and is now 20 and in college.
“Dancing has been a big part of Kelsea’s life,” Miller said.
Even though he’s not a dancer, Miller said husband Gary has been encouraging.
“He has been very supportive and loving through it all,” she said.
They were married in December 1971, after having met a party in Union City. He is from Bryant, Indiana.
In addition to Kelsea, Jennifer has two stepdaughters, Brook and Alexus Bissell, daughters of her husband, Scott.
Miller also has a son, Robb, who is in the U.S. Army in Houston, Texas.
She is proud of what she made of her career.
“It’s not a competitive school,” she said. “When I was young, we went into nursing homes to entertain. We don’t compete anywhere. I have a good group of people. There is not a lot of drama and competition.”