“It’s our 20th aniversay this year,” Terrie Batson mentioned in her quiet, understated way. We were standing in the lobby of Thalian Hall discussing her dance studio, Techniques in Motion.
“You’re kidding!” I responded.
It was hard to imagine Batson doing anything for that long. She has an eternal youthfulness—beauty and glamour almost from of a picture book. When combined with her fearlessness onstage and willingness to try anything, it is hard to see her as a stodgy adult.
I first became aware of Batson as a result of her stage acting. She has unstoppable comedic talent. But that is just one aspect of her life, which includes work as a dancer, choreographer, runway model, mother, and entrepreneur.
“Standing on the stage at Kenan for our recital, I couldn’t believe it had been 20 years…” Batson’s normally strong and firm voice trailed off.
As an entrepreneur, I am fascinated how other people come to this strange and fraught world of small business ownership. I understand how retail, wholesale, and restaurants or bars make money: They sell products. But how does one actually build a business around imparting knowledge—like dance? Moreover, how much courage does it take to try that as a single mom?
Baston recounted the early years of the studio—which she taught in her garage. “Then we moved into Long Leaf Mall in 1993,” she said. As for the single-mom part, she got a lot of help from her mom and sister-in-law, but it was still tough.
“I worked all the time,” Batson noted.
She recalled a story about her mom taking her young son to the mall. The two ran into a little girl who greeted the young boy warmly.
“Do you know that girl from school?” Grandma asked.
“No, she’s in Miss Terrie’s dance class,” he explained.
“Woah! Look at all the trophies!” I exclaimed during a tour of Batson’s Carolina Beach Road studio.
“Yes, they’re in every room; they’re starting to consume everything,” Batson responded nonchalantly, but her eyes sparkled and her pride boasted.
“The trophies are from the competitive teams,” she continued. “The very first year I had 12 dancers and now we have 60.”
Anyone unfamiliar with the world of competitive dance should understand it’s not different from youth sports teams. Groups of dancers travel most weekends to compete.
“We take 70 dances to competitions,” Batson noted. Just like on a sports team, the strength of the performance lies in a dancer’s ability to work with others and do what’s best for the group. Judging by the low-level glow that permeates the studios from the trophies, Batson and her teams must be on a winning streak.
This year they have a new accomplishment to celebrate: 18 of their dancers, ranging from age 9 to 18, were chosen to dance for Walt Disney World’s Christmas celebration and holiday spectacular parade.
“We leave December 1, they rehearse and dance between the 4 and the 7 of December—and preform for ABC TV,” Batson noted, bursting with pride. ABC’s Christmas coverage of Disney airs on Christmas day, but will be recorded a few weeks earlier.
She has seen students go on to dance professionally all over the country, and continues to connect with and inspire others who want to learn about dance at all stages of their lives. It really is amazing to see what she has accomplished.
Trophies aside, Techniques in Motion studio spaces are quite impressive: Marley dance floor has special subflooring to give it spring, and ballet barres come in multiple heights along the perimeter of the rooms—the lowest barres hinting at just how young some dancers begin. Panels of full-size mirrors reflect on the opposite wall.
As an entrepreneur, I have a brain that starts calculating costs when I walk into a place: rent, insurance, capital investment, etc. Batson’s facility is beautiful, and clearly was developed with the kind of love a parent has for a child. I asked how she went about writing a business loan for a dance school; I was curious how one would make it real to a banker.
“How do you go from teaching in your garage to having a school of this caliber?” I asked.
Her smile froze in a moment of confusion. “I didn’t,” she said.
She bought all the mirrors along the way, as she expanded, and she still has mirrors that she hung in her garage all those years ago. “I saved it up,” she said quite simply.
Batson didn’t get a business loan; she put money aside for every step of growth. I am impressed with what she has accomplished, and it’s apparent Batson is pleased, too. The real payoff for her is to have generations of families come to Techniques in Motion. “I have dancers now who have parents I taught,” Batson noted with pride.
Batson also offers adult classes, including beginning tap dance. Teaching adults is much different than children, she pointed out. The education goals are different, especially in something like tap. It is frequently a bucket-list item or a need-to-do so adults can make themselves happy.“Which adults should do: have something for themselves,” she agreed.
“Do you laugh at people if they fail or are awful?” I asked hesitantly.
“No, never,” Batson responded and gently reminded me that dance involves starting at the beginning, whether the student is 3 or 15.
I’m thinking of taking tap with Jock. He used to tap dance back in Canada and he hasn’t done it in years. I never have. Visions of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland swirl in my brain. Baton seemed so welcoming and supportive, it might just be possible.
November 1 will be the anniversary of Techniques in Motion. To celebrate and to thank all the people who have made it possible, Batson is throwing a block party in the school parking lot from noon until 5 p.m. She is thrilled to celebrate four years in the new location and 21 years in business. There will be a bounce house, face painting, hot dogs, raffles, and of course group dances—likeThe Macarena and the Cha-Cha Slide.
“It’s a thank you,” Batson noted.
Batson’s story is more than just about the achievements of a business. Like any successful entrepreneur, she knows it wouldn’t be possible without a lot of people who have believed in her dream for 20 years: dancers, instructors, parents, community support, and her family. And that’s incredible any way you slice it.
Techniques in Motion Anniversary Block Party
5543 Carolina Beach Rd.
Nov. 1, noon – 5 p.m. • Free