Taylor to be inducted into Chamber Hall of Fame

Paula Birkbeck Taylor has loved the art of dance since she was a little girl growing up in the Kansas City area.

“That was my thing,” Taylor said. “I took dance classes all those years, and I loved it.”

When Taylor and her parents, Jim and Mary Lou Birkbeck, moved to Holton, she wanted to continue to take dance lessons, but eventually, she ended up starting a class and giving those lessons. And what she started out of the Birkbeck family garage more than 30 years ago has grown into one of the city’s most popular businesses.

Taylor is being inducted into the Holton/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce this year for her commitment to starting and growing Paula’s School of Dance from the garage into a business that, as she puts it, provides “an avenue for kids to have something to enjoy” and encourages activity and growth at other businesses on Holton’s Town Square.

Even though Taylor sold the business to one of her former students, Heather Carlson, in 1997, the dance school — now known as Studio 1 Dance Center — continues to draw children from all around northeastern Kansas. Being recognized by the Chamber Hall of Fame for planting the seeds of that success in the mid-1980s, she said, is a humbling thing.

“I was completely surprised, but I’m really glad… I’ve known the rest of this year’s honorees since I was a kid, and I’ve always looked up to them,” Taylor said, referring to fellow honorees Dianna Wilson, Jan and the late Harold Hodge and Dorothy and the late Joe Rogers.

Paula’s School of Dance began in 1984 as “a family affair,” Taylor said. At that time, she was taking dance classes at the Institute of Performing Arts in Topeka, now known as The Dance Factory, and felt a need to bring what she was learning there back home.

“When I was in high school, I kept hearing people say, ‘We wish somebody would teach dance lessons here, because we can’t get down to Topeka to do that,’” Taylor said. “At the same time, my dad was building a garage behind our house, and I said, ‘Can I take part of that? I’d like to make that a practice area and teach a few lesssons, and it would just be a few kids.’”

Taylor received her father’s blessing to turn part of the garage into Paula’s School of Dance, and in the first class, she had 30 students. The next year, in 1985, the school put on the first of its popular dance recitals, and she noted that there were 55 dance students participating in that first show.

“We started out with just a few students, and every year, it just kind of grew,” Taylor told The Holton Recorder last year on the 30th anniversary of the school’s founding. “First it was 30, then it was 50, and it just kept on growing.”

It didn’t remain “just a few students” for very long, however, even when she was coming home on summers from Kansas State University, where she was active as a Pridette dancer, to teach classses. She switched to the University of Kansas in 1988 and was able to take up teaching dance classes full-time at that point.

It did, however, remain “a family affair,” with Taylor noting the help of her parents in getting the dance classes up and running, her brother Patrick acting as “curtain boy” for recitals, and her husband, Matt Taylor, in moving props and performing various other duties for classes and recitals.

By the time Taylor moved back to Holton in 1993, she was able to rent a studio space upstairs from the family business — Denison State Bank — and remodel it into a contemporary dance studio that would average more than 200 students — sometimes even as much as 300 — from as far away as Onaga, Sabetha and Hiawatha. It was that year that she took a dance group to a national competition in Las Vegas, Nev., and won it.

“We were just so excited that we’d won it,” she said. “It’s amazing how you go to competitions, and there’s studios from Kansas City and Wichita, and some of those kids are taking a lot more dance lessons, too... What’s neat about the kids from Holton who are taking dance, and they’re involved in sports and the high school musical — they may not have all their time to devote to one thing, but they still do very well.”

With the number of students growing, Taylor brought in other dancers to help teach them, and one of them was Carlson, who had, like Taylor, studied under Lisa Michaelis at the Dance Factory. Carlson, who said she had danced from the age of five until she was “20-ish,” was assisting Michaelis, who recommended her to Taylor, it was reported.

Taylor made the decision to sell Paula’s School of Dance to Carlson in 1997, noting that she wanted to get involved in the bank and start her own family. After Carlson took it over, the dance school’s name was changed to Studio 1 Dance Center.

“It was a transitional period,” Taylor told The Recorder last year of the change of name and ownership. “I wasn’t involved in it a lot after that. I wanted it to be hers. But I was there for her if she needed any help, and because she had worked for me, it made for a smooth transition.”

Taylor continued to lend her support to Studio 1, and she still gets a kick out of hearing kids running up the stairs to take classes.

“I still love it,” she said. “I still get a big chuckle when I’m working downstairs, and I hear the tap shoes upstairs. It doesn’t bother me a bit!”

Taylor also noted the school’s ability to maintain a strong storefront presence on the west side of Holton’s Town Square, not only in its windows glowing into the night after most of the businesses on the Square have shuttered for the day, but also in its ability to encourage parents who bring their children to classes to visit other locations on the Square while waiting for their children.

“They come from Onaga, Sabetha and Hiawatha, and they do their shopping,” she said. “Usually, downtown shuts down at around 5 p.m., and classes are still going, sometimes until about 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. But being able to spread things around while the lessons are going on is still good for the city.”

But most importantly, she said, it’s important to provide a wide variety of activities for young people in this community.

“With the kids, I think the more opportunities and experiences we can give them, the better, and I was glad that I was lucky to have that experience where I was able to go to Topeka and have the dance experience that I could bring back to Holton. It was another avenue for kids to have something to enjoy,” she said.

Last year, Taylor and Carlson celebrated 30 years of the existence of that “avenue” in Holton, getting some of the school’s former students back together to take part in the annual recital at Holton High School. “It was so much fun,” Taylor said.

Today, Carlson continues to take Studio 1 students to competitions across the country. Taylor said students this year are looking forward to a national competition in Galveston, Texas, and she’s hoping for some of the same success that her class experienced more than two decades ago in Las Vegas.

Taylor’s also proud of the legacy that’s grown out of the classes she taught in the school’s early years.

“In school, a teacher has students for a year, and then they move on,” she said. “I got to watch a lot of these kids grow up, and it is so much fun to see so many of my students who are adults now and see what they’re doing, and maybe still have a little part in their life.”

And she’s also passing along her love of dance to her eight-year-old daughter, Amanda, who takes classes at Studio 1.

“I’m still there, just in a different way,” Taylor said. 

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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