Dancers with Kentlands-based The Studio at Miss Cara’s performed “Movement, Music and Mitzvah 2016” at the Arts Barn on June 15. More than $300 was raised for Children’s Hospital National Medical Center.
Studio owner and dance instructor Cara O’Connor said that her students learn dance to do a good deed, and this is paid forward during the annual “Movement, Music and Mitzvah” show. This year, O’Connor gave her young students the option of dancing for hungry or sick children. The 11 youth chose to dance for the sick children at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. “Community service is part of the experience,” O’Connor explained of her dance studio.
Founded in 2005, The Studio at Miss Cara’s has raised more than $7,000 with its annual shows, and 100 percent has been donated to the Brain Tumor Society, the Children’s Anaphylactic Network, Autism Speaks, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and Children’s Hospital National Medical Center. Shows are non-ticketed with donations collected for the “mitzvah” or charitable act.
In addition to the studio’s caring, healthy environment and small class size, Marie Hsieh, whose daughter, Emily, is one of O’Connor’s students, said that she “loved how Cara brought charity work into her recital. It is priceless to expose the children at such a young age to reach out to those in need.”
“I have a low-key philosophy,” O’Connor said. Instead of fancy costumes and production numbers that afford individual students limited time on stage, O’Connor’s shows feature her youth and adult students on stage the entire time, and are structured around warm ups, floor crossings and then a production number. Youth costumes this year were purchased at Target and can be used as play clothes after the show. “My discipline is movement art,” she said. “We’re all about the process, not the product.”
This year was O’Connor’s first back from a six-year hiatus. Her 11 children, ages 2 to 6, and six adults learned Broadway-style tap and jazz, as well as contemporary (or modern). Children learned creative movement as well, while adults also took low-impact workout classes. This year, the children saw Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” and designed their own piece, O’Connor said. “They really owned it. … From early childhood, I want them to love dancing. I want this to give them the confidence to try anything at all.”
Allison Lee, whose daughters Julia (6) and Diana (3) started taking dance lessons with O’Connor in September, said, “Both girls have thrived under Miss Cara’s guidance and care—but each in their own way.” O’Connor has developed Lee’s older daughter’s “natural affinity for music, rhythm and dance” so that she is now beginning “to put moves together and match various choreography with different types of music.” For her youngest, Lee said O’Connor has given Diana confidence in her own movement style, fostering her “individuality and creativity while instilling dance technique and art.”
As a parent, Lee said that she values how invested O’Connor is in her students. “If I had to summarize Cara’s teaching style, I’d just draw a big ol’ heart,” Lee said. “She loves her students in a way that not all teachers/instructors/coaches do. To her, these children are not just “somebody else’s kids.”… It is evident in her mannerisms and attitude that each of them has a special place in her heart. As a parent, there’s not anything better than that.”
O’Connor has taught dance and theatre in the D.C. area since 1983. She has directed and choreographed productions at Georgetown Prep, Georgetown Visitation and Georgetown University, as well as at many Montgomery County Public School high schools and as an adjunct professor at Montgomery College. She was one of the founding faculty members of the Children’s Dance Lab on the University of Maryland campus and was director at Feet First Dance Studio in Bethesda.
O’Connor left Feet First to become a stay-at-home mom to her two children, Danny and Betsy, and opened her home-based dance studio. O’Connor’s son and daughter, Danny and Betsy, are musicians, and both performed in this year’s “Movement, Music and Mitzvah” show.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/The-Studio-at-Miss-Caras-1592126397767001/ or contact Cara O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.