Home News and Features Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio Marks 50 Years; Sale to a Former...

Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio Marks 50 Years; Sale to a Former Student Keeps It ‘In the Family’

Shaina Taub (right front, in blue tank) and Isadora Snapp (second from right in front in light blue tank) in Teen Jazz during the 2004–05 school year, Shaina’s last year in high school. Photo by Irene Racz.
The Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio (CD&FS) reached two milestones this academic year: the 50th anniversary of its founding by Lorraine Neal and the sale of the studio to former student and longtime instructor Isadora Snapp.

The anniversary will be celebrated the last weekend in June with events at the studio’s new space on the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) campus, as well as with a gala at the Barre Opera House. (See sidebar for details.)

That the studio has thrived for half a century is a testament to the quality of its programming and the esteem in which it is held by generations of students and parents. Today, nearly a dozen instructors teach nine styles of dance, plus yoga and fitness, to students of all ages.

Predictably, CD&FS took a financial hit when it had to scale back classes and institute other precautions during the pandemic. But it has been rebuilding and is back to full strength with nearly 250 students.

Neal founded CD&FS in late 1973, with the first annual performance held in the spring of 1974. The studio was initially located in downtown Barre, then in various church spaces, before settling into a building on Montpelier’s Langdon Street in 1980. 

The studio sought new quarters following the 2022 sale of the building and notification that its rent would double. The move to the VCFA campus was propitious, happening not long before July’s flood.

Snapp was pivotal in finding the new space and paving the way for the move. 

“She was a rock,” said Neal. “I’m very impressed with her fortitude. It was a huge amount of work to move.”

Isadora Snapp. Photo courtesy of Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio.
Although she maintained ownership until last summer, Neal stepped away from daily operations in 2010, initially to work at a private school in New York City and later to care for her ailing mother in Florida. She chose to stay there after her mother’s death in 2017.

During her absence, instructor Allison Mann — whom Neal describes as exceptionally organized, conscientious, and personable — took over as director. Among her duties, Mann scheduled classes, enrolled students, and staged the annual three-day performance at the opera house, a herculean task requiring the acquisition of hundreds of costumes and the coordination of many instructors and volunteers.

Mann chokes up when she describes having to cancel the 2020 performance on relatively short notice due to COVID. The show is always a rite of passage, especially for graduating seniors, but that year the studio had to improvise.

Rosemary Leach, another former student and longtime instructor, had the idea to caravan to seniors’ homes, where faculty members pulled out a boombox and tried to cheer them up by dancing on their lawns. 

“We all felt deeply for their loss,” said Mann.

A show in 2021 was again out, but Mann set up outdoor stages in Hubbard Park, with dancers performing in small groups spread out along the trail. The studio also filmed a small ballet in the opera house. In 2022, the recital was back at the opera house, but on a condensed schedule that meant students could perform only once.

Neal had contemplated selling for years, but said it took a while to prepare emotionally to “pull the trigger.” In 2023, when she was finally ready, the timing was no longer ideal for Mann. After discussions among the faculty, Snapp stepped forward.

“I always liked (Isadora) so much,” Neal said. “She’s very smart, and a brilliant dancer and choreographer.” Neal said the studio will always be a part of her and her legacy, and she couldn’t be more pleased that it’s passing “to someone in the family.”

Snapp danced at the studio for many years, including in high school as a member of the prestigious Teen Jazz repertory company, and has been teaching since returning to Vermont from New York City in 2008.

She has focused mostly on ballet, although she taught modern dance for several years. In addition, she had a strong desire to direct Teen Jazz and has been doing so the last few years with Leach. They also started a Junior Jazz company for middle schoolers.

Snapp said she never imagined owning the studio, always finding it helpful to have the “buffer” of someone else being in charge, but in the end decided it was worth a try.

“I was very overwhelmed at the beginning,” she said. “Now I’m starting to get excited about the possibilities.” Among them, she wants to expand offerings for pre-school children and adults, build up the breaking and hip hop programs, and offer more performing opportunities to students who are not members of the Teen or Junior Jazz companies.

Racz, a writer, editor, and former board member of The Bridge, spent many years involved with CD&FS as the parent of a student, a student herself, and a volunteer.

CD&FS Anniversary Events

All events are free and open to the public, except where noted. Locations include the studio at 62 Ridge Street/Stone Science Building at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, the Barre Opera House, and the VCFA green. RSVP by June 1.

Friday, June 28

7 p.m., Studio B: social with open mic and DJ dance party, BYOB.

Saturday, June 29

10 a.m., Studio B: slow yoga with Allison Mann.

1:30 p.m., Studio B: informal showing; interested choreographers should apply online by June 1: cdandfs.com/50th-anniversary.html

3 p.m., Studio B: contemporary fusion class with Hanna Satterlee.

7 p.m., Barre Opera House: gala celebration, $50 per person; purchase tickets at cdandfs.com/shop.html

Two activities are open only to eligible individuals: a brown bag lunch for former and current faculty, 11:30 a.m., VCFA green (Studio A if rain); and a breakers reunion, 3 p.m., Studio A.

Sunday, June 30

9 a.m., Studio A: guided deep relaxation with Rosemary Leach.

10:30 a.m., VCFA green (Studio B if rain): complimentary brunch.

11:30 a.m., VCFA green (or Studio B): closing circle.