>> Krit, Andrew, and I sat down with Amy Coppola, the owner and teacher of Dunleavy Irish Dance. The school, which was her dream, became a reality six years ago. We talked with Cappola about her business and congratulated her on being nominated for City Newspaper’s “Best of Rochester” List. She expressed what an honor it was to have her dance company on the list with dancers such as the world renowned Garth Fagan, whom she respects and admires. It’s been a lot of hard work and an unconventional way of teaching that has worked very well for her. So well, in fact, that her dance studio now has a wait list. Seeing her beam with admiration while talking about her students was truly heartwarming.
Her passion for dance started when she was young and has only grown since. “I’ve been dancing since I was six, here in Rochester. I always knew I wanted to start a dance company ever since I was little. One time I was at a national competition”, recounted Coppola, “I think I was seven years old, and I saw someone with a jacket that said Dunleavy Irish Dance and I said to my mom, ‘Look there’s another Dunleavy!’ – that’s my Mom’s maiden name – she responded saying, ‘Yeah that’s really cool!’ but I retorted, ‘NO! What are we going to do? That’s the name of my school!’ So my mom asked, ‘What school is that?’ I stated, ‘I’m opening a studio.’ and from that point forward, I’ve had that goal in mind.” She did stray away from dance for some time as an adult due to a past bad experience but she eventually came back around to it.
“That negative experience probably impacted me the most to make such a positive experience for my students. I’m very very on top of the way everyone treats each other to make it build a really strong community. I think, in general, in competitive sports you have that competition that comes from the kids themselves and then you have [pressure from] the parents. I think some of them want to put a lot of pressure on their kids to be high achievers. So it’s great support, but it can easily turn into that harsh ‘dance mom’ mentality. I do a lot to stay on top of that and try and make it fun.”
Coppola’s teaching ideology is based around not rushing her students. She makes a point to make sure they are ready to start the next stage of their training, even if this means having the student repeat it. This has drawn shock from the parents from time to time, who worry that their kids are being held back, but she does this because she cares about the children. When you move up a level, the dance steps become more complex and the risk of injury becomes greater. Better to be prepared than to have someone be injured when they are not. Her dance school teaches more than just preparedness and dance: it teaches the children confidence in themselves, the ability to work with others, and to better each other rather than put each other down.
“I have them at this very special time in their life where they are developing their own self confidence and I want to be a positive factor in that and help them. I’ve had kids that are very shy and don’t even want to talk in class so for them to be able to go up in front of a crowd of a thousand people and do a solo that is incredible. This process occurs slowly. I hope that if they have an idea elsewhere, like in school or as an adult, they will be able to have the confidence to speak their mind and share their talent.”
Coppola’s students also benefit her. When they are conditioning, she does it with them. They push her to become stronger. She is always on her best behavior because they view her as a role model. This mutually beneficial relationship is strong, and we saw that as we walked into her studio while she was finishing up a class.
“I’m really lucky, I think the first group of students that I started with are really really good kids. Everything that I was introducing them to, all of the ideas, the cultural tone that I was trying to set in stone, they really picked up on it. At first, Dunleavy was just an idea in my head, it wasn’t alive. And creating the business that it is now, it has become its own living breathing thing. Dunleavy has it’s own way. In fact now the kids will say if someone leaves somebody else out, they’ll say, ‘That’s not really a Dunleavy thing to do’. The first time I heard someone say that I was like ‘Oh we did it, Dunleavy is a thing now!’ It made me really proud. I am really proud of them. I think that first group was really great and now I have them in the classes helping me as assistants so [new students] have a role model….I told you how much they look up to me but I just want to spread that around. We have an advanced student in each class so they build that sisterhood where they look up to and help each other.”
Her students have big dreams, some want to become World Champions, and they all want to succeed and do their best. This wouldn’t be possible without all the hard work and determination from Amy. She is living her dream and we can’t wait for all of the future success that is bound to happen! <<