Five dance students rehearse for an upcoming performance on the second floor of the historic Progressive Grange building in Waldoboro.
The dusky pink walls are crowned by an ornate molding in creamy white. The rich wood of the doors and trim glow in the light of tall windows that line one wall of the studio. The opposite wall is one long mirror where students can check their form as they dance.
There DanceMaineia founder Melanie Lecher Pagurko perches on the edge of a stool encouraging the dancers to point their toes, drop their shoulders, find their balance, and go again.
At times she gets up and demonstrates a leap or a spin. Pagurko works closely with the girls, adjusting a hand position, a head tilt, reviewing the routine with them step by step.
Elle Stevens, 16, and Sopna Atkinson Tatro, 19, play off each other, striking classic jazz poses, their toes in pointe position, bodies bent, hands dramatically placed to cover their faces.
The form breaks and they relax laughing together.
“We all have to thank Melanie. Without her we wouldn’t be here,” said Stevens. “She didn’t just teach us how to dance. She taught us how to love it.”
Pagurko’s journey as a dance instructor began when her brother and his friends were breakdancing. They were asked to teach a class in the style, but they didn’t like teaching and quickly turned the class over to her. She taught her first dance class at the age of 13.
As a teenager, Pagurko danced and taught all over Midcoast Maine, landing at the Portland School of Ballet and the Casco Bay Movers whose founder, Sheila Bellefleur, she counts as the inspiration for her dance life and career.
Pagurko, who grew up in Newcastle from the age of 10, said she graduated from Lincoln Academy sixth in her class and felt a responsibility to go to college. She was in and out several times, “but my heart was with dance,” she said.
She traveled to Chicago to dance, then trained and taught at the Phoenix School of Ballet. When she came back to Maine, she opened her first studio.
But the birth of her first child sidelined her plans. Her son was high-need and Pagurko was overwhelmed by his care. She closed the studio and focused on teaching in a variety of venues in the area, including afternoon classes at Great Salt Bay School. She had a studio above the Subway in Damariscotta for a while, too.
Pagurko rented space where she could and taught when she could until about five or six years ago when she started a studio above the Medomak Veterinary Clinic in Waldoboro.
And then came the Progressive Grange.
Pagurko looked at granges as possible studios before – the buildings have a spaciousness that is conducive to dancing, and community dances were a significant part of their history. It seemed a natural fit, but condition issues in the old buildings prevented them from being a viable option.
Pagurko had a series of informal conversations with the owners of the Waldoboro landmark over the course of the last two years. When they decided to renovate the building, she saw an opportunity.
Pagurko loves the history of the building, and its use as a dance hall. “I loved it from the get go,” she said.
The DanceMaineia Studio at the Progressive Grange officially opened in June.
DanceMaineia’s summer session is winding down. The summer showcase at the Waldo Theatre on Aug. 15 marked the culmination of the season’s classes, but registration for fall classes is underway.
Pagurko, along with three of her daughters, teaches a variety of styles for all ages at DanceMaineia, from pre ballet to lyrical and contemporary, from jazz to hip-hop to creative movement. Francesca Ceccarini of Brunswick’s Petit Jete Dance Boutique comes in once a week to teach pointe work classes.
New to the studio this fall will be an adult ballet barre class with a focus on conditioning, stretching and strength training. Pagurko said she will design the program herself.
“I like to do my own thing,” she said. “I enjoy creating warm-ups, dance pieces and choreography with the students.”
Most students sign up for the dance year which runs from the beginning of September through mid-May. Classes are cumulative, building on each other week to week, with two eight-week sessions featuring technique and training during the first half of the year and two more eight-week sessions focused on choreography for the second half. A dance recital in May traditionally caps the dance year.
Pagurko said that while COVID slashed the number of students she had last year, she has seen a resurgence of interest over the summer. She remains mindful of protecting her students, aware of vaccination status, strategic about social distancing and mask wearing.
“I plan to do my best to keep things moving and to keep kids and adults dancing as long as we can do it safely,” she said. “I want to give them the gift of movement. So they will always have it.”
Christina Pagurko, at 13, the youngest of Melanie Pagurko’s four daughters, continues the family tradition of dance, practicing sections of the routine several times before taking a break for water.
Michaela LaCrosse, 16, also a student teacher at the studio, suggests adding an additional flourish when the dancers leave the stage. Melanie Pagurko agrees.
Melanie Pagurko encourages 13-year-old Mya Krawic to analyze herself – to repeat a particular sequence of moves until she corrects the place where she stumbles. Melanie Pagurko strongly believes students learn better when they concentrate on the movement and find the mistakes themselves.
The young dancer repeats the sequence several times. She finds the issue, makes the correction. She has it now. The dance continues.
Five dancers converge toward the center of the dance floor at the DanceMaineia studio. Together they leap, forming a circle of extended arms and pointed toes. The sequence isn’t perfect, but it’s close.
“Again,” Melanie Pagurko said.
DanceMaineia will host an open house from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 20, at the studio at 931 Winslows Mills Road in Waldoboro.