A change of venue was required a few years ago for Janet Furtney’s dance studio.
And so one of her students had some advice.
“You need to go and talk to Bill,” Furtney recalled the student saying.
That would be Bill Haberthur, secretary of Bethel Park Historical Society and the driving force behind renovations to the former Bethel High School on South Park Road.
“I was just fascinated by it, of course,” said Furtney of the structure she had previously visited, which is more than 100 years old.
So she decided to pay a return visit.
Haberthur showed her around, pointing out all the improvements that were being made, and told her she could offer dance lessons at what now is called the Schoolhouse Arts and History Center.
“I was absolutely amazed at their accomplishments and was thrilled that he was able to accommodate and welcome us into the building that quickly,” Furtney recalled.
Her first event was a traditional Thanksgiving morning ballet class in 2017, and a little more than a year and a half later, she hosted the opening of her new Improvement thru Movement Dance Studio in the building’s basement.
But don’t let the location fool you. The newly renovated space once was a sixth-grade classroom and was designed with large windows to allow for plenty of natural light.
Ferber hosted a recent reception marking the opening, with Haberthur joining many of her students in celebrating.
“A lot of the building wasn’t done, but she got it,” he said of their initial visit to the building. “She saw the vision. We talked about what we were going to do with the building, and she jumped on board.”
So did the students, who tended to take an interest in the renovations and helped spread the word about the progress.
“They would, before class, come in and say, ‘What are you guys doing tonight?’” Haberthur recalled. “They were so complimentary and so enthused.”
Among them is Bea Donnelly of Bethel Park, the student who suggested Furtney talk with Haberthur.
“I’ve always liked this building, and I told her that she should come over here and see what they had to offer. It seemed like the ideal place for a ballet studio,” Donnelly said. “It’s a pleasure for me just to walk through the door when I come to class, just to walk into this building.”
Along with ballet, Improvement thru Movement also offers dance instruction in the likes of jazz, tap and hip-hop.
“We love being able to expose a lot of forms of dance and give people the opportunity to take a class and enjoy it, and see what it’s all about,” Furtney said.
She studied classical Russian ballet under Vitale Fokine, son of groundbreaking choreographer and dancer Mikhail Fokin, along with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre founder Nicholas Petrov and other instructors with the company. Some of Furtney’s students have been with her for more than three decades.
Among the newer ones are Carole Taylor and James Benedict of North Franklin Township, Washington County, who decided to learn ballet in their 70s.
“We were looking to do some kind of exercise that wasn’t boring, for the winter, and we wanted to try something that we never tried before,” Benedict said. “The experience has been great. We’re using muscles we’ve never used before.”
And Taylor said there was one other unintended consequence of the lessons.
“His golf game has improved,” she said.
Taylor said she has enjoyed the classes and their teacher.
“Janet has been wonderful,” Taylor said. “She’s extremely kind and patient and supportive, no matter what your level. And we’re really, really beginners.”
For Donnelly, taking ballet began nearly five years ago, after she received an Improvement thru Movement gift certificate.
“I’ve noticed a difference in my balance, my posture, strength,” she said. “(Furtney) invites all skill levels, and she’s so patient. Her classes – with the classical music, the beauty of the studio, watching the dance – transport me to a different place.”
For more information, visit www.improvementthrumovement.com.