Caitlin Camuccio has been dancing since the age of 3 while training at the Academy of Dance where she is now the owner and director of the dance school. Caitlin became an assistant teacher at the age of 12 and was teaching classes on her own at 17. She was first introduced to a different dance teacher while attending Elizabeth High School. Caitlin was taught for 4 years by Nicole Giordano Lemoine, who brought a new, fresh and energetic approach to the world of dance for her and Caitlin's love for the art form continued to grow.
Caitlin then went to Montclair State University to study theater, not dance. However, through her minor, she was able to take some dance classes while studying there. She tried to purposely take genres of dance she had never taken before. Caitlin knew they would be drastically different than what she was used to, but she wanted to learn and experience as much as she could. Her dance experience has always been positive. Whether she was the best in the room or the worst, dancing challenges her in a way that truly inspires and motivates her, and she simply loves the way our bodies can move and create a language all their own.
Caitlin would leave classes frustrated and defeated at times, for sure. She like many dancers do, suffered injuries, broken ankles, torn ligaments and all. However, those experiences never tainted her overall attitude toward dance. It was always something she needed in my life.
Her experiences with injuries helped mold her into the teacher she is today through giving her a better understanding of when a dancer is “pushing too hard” or when they are challenging their muscles and bodies just enough. Caitlin was that dancer that never wanted to quit, always pushing herself.
At most times it was productive but then got cocky and stubborn to a point where she really hurt herself. Pointé is a dance genre Caitlin now will never be able to do again due to the injury her ankle endured.
She believes all of her own personal experiences allowed her to connect with her students on a deeper level. Caitlin can remember where she was at her students' age in terms of technique and ability and try to modify and explain the way the body moves in a way they will understand. She believes her theater training truly influences her approach to performing and teaching as well.
The whole body tells the story. Similarly, in theater, she learned that no character ever speaks onstage without an objective, a purpose. She tells her dancers the same. You have to remember why you’re doing this. What message are you trying to convey? Why do you need to dance this dance right now? What is your objective? In her experience, when she can emotionally connect to the material in a piece, it elevates her performance of it. She thinks that has definitely shaped her as an instructor.
From all the years of training in dance and becoming a teacher, Caitlin has learned that dance is a universal language. She's learned that teaching others to dance is so much more than teaching the proper technique to execute a combination traveling across the floor. When you see the love and passion for the art form ignite in your dancers’ eyes, or when someone enters your studio with a heavy heart and you literally watch them healing right in front of you as they dance it out…that is magic. That is what it’s all about.
One of Caitlin's most memorable moments with AoD is her first recital. A diva was born that day, for sure. her favorite recital theme would have to be “Outside The Lines”. The premise was a world where colors represented wealth. The more vibrant the colors, the wealthier you were. The leadership becomes so blinded by their greed, that the system goes haywire and crashes, leaving them in a world without color. The rest of the recital centered around the society coming together, regardless of social status, to restore the color to their world. There’s always a message and a plot-line to all of our shows, but the message we portrayed with that one was a particular favorite for Caitlin and her sister.
Not everyone learns or dances the same. As an owner and instructor, it’s important for Caitlin to observe and to adapt to the needs of her students. Applying that way of thinking to other scenarios in her life as an adult has really helped her foster relationships, both personally and professionally. It is important to observe, to help, to adapt.
Caitlin's favorite part about teaching dance is having a creative home for dancers to come to. It’s watching the shy and apprehensive students start to come out of their shells, it's watching the pride come across all their faces the first time they successfully execute a step.
To remain active and productive during the pandemic, Caitlin continues to dance with virtual classes as much as possible with AoD. She has created a new and fun movement called “Let’s Move! Lunches”. Every “School Day” of Quarantine at 12:30 p.m., she goes live on the AoD Instagram and Facebook page and lead whoever is watching in a short 2-minute stretch and then do a fun and easy “follow me” type routine. Caitlin usually themes it each day or tries to have some motivational message. She does this to keep herself and her students up and moving each day. The whole thing lasts about 10 minutes, total, but it’s a great way to break up the day of online learning.
The AoD is truly a family to Caitlin. They take care of each other in ways that extend far beyond the dance floor. This was most proven on two occasions for her. For AoD's 25th year, Caitlin's sister organized a massive reunion show. They had so many alumni come back to dance with them that year, and had all three owners present, even the original owner who now lives in Arizona. It was such a display of love and support and the ties that bind us all watching generations of dancers all gather and greet one another as though they’ve known each other forever.
The second most memorable would have to be when Caitlin's sister passed away. The dance community came out in droves. There were people she had not danced within well over a decade who showed up, and they all came wearing an AoD t-shirt of some kind. It was beautiful. AoD is a part of them all, even when you leave those 4 hot pink walls. It takes a piece of your heart, forever.
Caitlin's sister Shannon is and always will be her mentor and inspiration. She is the single most influential person in her life. The only reason Caitlin ever set foot in a dance studio was because of her sister. Caitlin was too young to dance when her sister started taking dance lessons.
Caitlin would wait in the lobby with her mom and lie on her stomach to look under the crack of the door. She knew Shannon was in there and wanted to be in there with her. Growing up, they weren’t even in the same dance classes because Shannon was 3 years older than Caitlin and was always in the more advanced classes. When they got older, and their age groups were combined, it was the best for Caitlin.
Her sister was always great at everything she did, but most of their passions differed. The dance was the largest passion they shared and getting to share the studio and stage with each Shannon was an honor for Caitlin. Once Caitlin started teaching at the studio, Shannon quite literally became her mentor. She had been teaching already, and she trained Caitlin at the studio. Caitlin busted her chops and acted like she hated having her sister as her superior, but in reality, she listened to every word she said and absorbed all she could from her. Shannon was exceptional with children. She understood them in a way Caitlin never did, and truly connected with them. Her methods of teaching were not only effective, but rooted in humanity, compassion, and kindness.
They were always partners in life being as she was Caitlin's one and only sibling, but as they became partners at AoD, it took their relationship to a totally new level and gave Caitlin a new appreciation for her. Shannon truly gave her all to the studio. Caitlin realizes now, all the corny little touches her sister would put into everything they did were what made her and the studio so special to so many. Sharing the stage with her for so many years, Caitlin always wanted to make her sister proud of her. Having her sister dancing alongside her, usually to Caitlin's immediate right, was something she now realizes she took for granted. Caitlin loved it and misses it deeply. They would often talk to each other onstage through clenched teeth fixed into their “show smiles”, crack jokes or tell each other when they saw the other make a mistake, they laughed a lot.
Dancing next to her sister was the best time Caitlin ever had as a performer. While she always assumed, they would have so much more time to share the stage, Caitlin knows her sister is still mentoring an inspiring her now. When she dances, Caitlin can feel her sister's presence. Sometimes it’s so overpowering, Caitlin will look over her right shoulder and fully expect to see her there dancing alongside her as she did for so many years. Every day Caitlin sets foot in that studio, every virtual class she teaches, tutorial she makes, Let’s Move Lunch live stream, everything she does is inspired by and because of her sister Shannon. Caitlin will always try to lead by her sister's example and do her best to make her sister proud.
To further her reach in the community, Caitlin would never turn down an opportunity for AoD to grow. Now is a truly transitional and uncertain time for them in the wake of her sister passing, however, she hopes to continue and grow. They have a legacy to uphold, and furthering that reach in their immediate community and in the dance community overall would be a blessing to Caitlin. There is just so much beyond her control during this paramedic. With one thing at a time, Caitlin's main goal is to have the recital and get through AoD's 30th year as a business.