Autumn Blais opens Birmingham Academy of Dance in Inverness
Story by Grace Thornton
Photos by Dawn Harrison
These days, Autumn Blais is teaching whole classes of children how to take leaps.
It’s definitely not a new concept for her.
She took a big leap of her own this summer.
In August, Blais opened the Birmingham Academy of Dance, a new state-of-the-art dance studio on U.S. 280 in the Inverness Heights shopping center. It’s the realization of a lifelong dream for her, but it was also a practical move, she said.
“I had a daughter who was growing up in dance, and there was nothing on this side of 280 — we were driving to another part of town to get what we needed,” Blais said.
That’s no small thing considering the fact that her 12-year-old daughter, Spencer Shirley, spends about 14 hours a week honing her skills as a competitive dancer.
“We felt there was a need for a studio on this side of town,” Blais said. “When you have a child who’s in it, you start noticing these things, these needs, more and more.”
And she feels she was right in sensing that need. At its grand opening, Birmingham Academy of Dance was already approaching 200 students, well above its goal of 140.
“We built the building to accommodate 500 to 600 students so that we would have plenty of room to grow,” she said. “We wanted a large space and several studios so that multiple classes could be going on at the same time.”
And in those studios, she said, they wanted the instruction to be extra personalized.
“Our instructors are specifically trained in one genre,” Blais said. “Our ballet teacher has extensive ballet experience. Our jazz instructor has extensive jazz experience.”
And Blais, also a seasoned instructor, teaches classes focusing on hip-hop and — yes — leaps and turns.
“We start classes at age 2 and go all the way through 18, and we offer all genres — ballet, tap, clogging, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, lyrical and musical theater,” she said.
Blais herself started learning to dance at age 2, as did her daughter. But Blais said she works hard to make the studio a comfortable environment for older beginners.
“We have a lot of beginner students who are 12 and 13 and were afraid to take dance,” she said, noting that Birmingham Academy of Dance breaks classes up based on age but also on level so that all students can feel right at home.
“We don’t want kids to feel insecure and intimidated — we want them to feel comfortable in class,” Blais said.
As a result, the studio has been able to recruit beginner, intermediate and advanced students across every age group, she said. “We have a really good mix, and we’ve been able to adapt and personalize the classes to challenge each student.”
Also from the early stages of design, Birmingham Academy of Dance endeavored to make the building itself conducive to challenging the students.
“We made sure the atmosphere was as much like a stage performance as possible,” Blais said. “We used stage flooring in the studios, and we have ballet bars and mirrors to accommodate better performances from the students.”
And the results?
“We are thrilled,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Sixteen-year-old Shaina Trumer said it’s a dream come true for her, too.
She had been looking for a new studio this summer when she and her mom stumbled upon Birmingham Academy of Dance through an advertisement.
“My mom says I’m not a nice person when I’m not in dance, so we were really looking hard for a place for me to start dancing again,” Trumer said with a laugh.
After she and her mom saw the ad, they emailed Birmingham Academy of Dance, and Blais answered their email the same day, Trumer said.
“They were so friendly. We went to an open house soon after that at the studio, and they remembered who I was,” she said. “I felt so welcomed. It was great. I knew it was the place for me.”
She feels that way even more now that she’s taking classes.
“The teachers really work with you. I think it’s great,” said Trumer, who takes classes in contemporary dance, clogging, ballet, hip hop and several other technical skills. “It’s the most positive dance environment I’ve ever been in.”
For more information, visit badance280.com or call 205-518-0933.