Cultivating more than just performances, Pat’s Dance Studio creates a second home and community for local dancers in a stress-free environment. It is likely to walk into Pat’s and see dancers doing homework in the hangout room or parents chatting about their child entering a new grade. Owner and Director Melanie Vaughan wants the public to know all are welcome, and that this is their home.
Buying the business after her aunt Pat Randazzo in 1979 founded and worked at Pat’s for 38 years, Vaughan is now in her fourth year and 42nd season at the studio. The performative community-based studio has children of all genders ages 2 to 18 learning jazz, tap, ballet and musical theater.
Vaughan says it’s important for the students’ self-esteem and mental health to let them thrive in a stress-free environment with no competition. She likes to let the kids have a say in operations, like which movie to watch for movie night.
“Our kids are good enough for competitions…but this should be their happy place where they want to go when they don’t want to be home,” explained Vaughan regarding the performance-based ideology the studio takes. Her passion stems from “help[ing] these kids get through their adolescent years and to be better people.”
During Covid-19, 65 percent of the dancers were not attending because of the switch to virtual and other pandemic-related reasons. Now being back in the studio and following all Center for Disease Control guidelines, it would take a 23 percent increase to reach the original number of children attending. To Vaughan having the studio back open was one step in rebuilding her business, but she is not at full membership yet.
Reflecting on the trials of Covid and having to close on her birthday, she “kept everybody healthy” by limiting capacity, not allow parents into the building, installing new sanitation spots, putting in new filters in the HVAC and making boxes on the floors to keep everyone six feet apart. As a member of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, she says they also helped every step of the way.
“It’s important to be here and open for my students and my parents. Having that safe place to go. That camaraderie, having that connection; we are a hub. We’re kind of at the center of it all,” Vaughan said stressing how important relationships within the studio are.
Swearing there is a mysticism to the building she said, “There is a feel to this building, and I don’t know what my aunt put in the wall, but there is something in the walls that it feels like home.” In an homage to her aunt, who put so many hours of work into the business, Vaughan has her aunt’s dining room table in her office as a symbol of where family comes together.
The connections made from the studio are lifelong, Vaughan attested. Every day she receives an alumni message on social media to talk and give updates of their dance careers. Fostering continuing relationships is especially important to Vaughan, she concluded, “Once you’re a Pat’s dancer, you’re always a Pat’s dancer…Regardless of when you came, when you stopped, or if you came for a year and never came again, you’re still Pat’s family.”