Dance Gallery a place to nurture — and be nurtured


Fourteen years ago, 12-year-old to Kim Sandstrom, like many others, first walked through the doors of the Dance Gallery on Bay Street and left her cares far behind as she got lost in a world that needed no words.

A world so creatively fulfilling that the youngster gifted in math and science would catch the eyes of her teachers, sisters Erin Brinkerhoff and Kara Morkert, set down her books and begin to dance.

This world would over the years use all her gifts and reward her in ways she never foresaw.

When you walk through that door, you discover that there are so many extraordinary pieces that fit together to make, as Erin says when she describes one of their shows, “the most amazing amalgamation imaginable.”

There are former students, alumni of the Dance Gallery who live all around the United States, who learned a dance routine via UTube and who came back to dance and celebrate the sisters’ 15 years of business and personal success.

Students, like Dayna Randleman, who flew in from Arizona. Or former Sea Gal Jennifer (Bruins) Sheffler, who now lives in Bellevue.

There’s Deanna Eggelston from Olympia, who has two little boys and who said that, “I would do it again tomorrow, if I could.”

There’s the rabbi’s daughter, Yasmeen Penitz-Hoskins, who danced with Kara and Erin’s fledging business in its second year and was on their first Major Motion dance team, who traveled from Maryland, because it all reminded her of how much she loved to dance.

There are the hundreds of kids these two sisters have touched over the years and who have come away from the experience more confident and self-assured, students who tell Kara and Erin that they haven’t found another dance studio that offers the same “loving openness.”

Yet maybe the most incredible piece of “our story” as Kara calls it, is that it started with a tragedy almost too terrible to endure.

Just graduated from college with a degree in applied psychology, Kara came home and found the lifeless body of the man she had called Dad since she was 6 years old, her step-father Bernie Angel.

It is sad to reflect that he had taken his own life, but from that tragedy came blessings, Kara says, so numerous for the two sisters and their mother, state Rep. Jan Angel, that they all feel they were protected, loved and supported by so many friends in the community and “led to where we are now.”

Ultimately, the 19-year-old left college in Alaska to help her mother and sister sift through the family business, which included owning several hair salons. One day while driving around the community, the sisters came upon a downtown dance studio that was for lease.

Around the dinner table they hatched a business plan and within a month they had the Dance Gallery up and running.

Yet, as Erin says, “If you had told me then where we would have ended up, I never would have believed you.”

While the physical reality of their operation has changed slightly, they have endured as a downtown Port Orchard Bay Street business for 15 years, no small achievement.

They started in the space across the street from the Olympic Bike Shop and then moved to the upstairs of the original Cline Building and Howe Home built in 1894.

Once again, it’s hard to put into words the qualities the sisters share that compel you to get lost in their world. All I know is that once you walk through that door, you are a friend for life. As Erin says, “Our motto is, ‘For a day or a lifetime.’”

Their dancers, many who started as small children, have gone on to dance professionally and to teach in studios around the country, including Ami Robinson, who married fellow dancer, Kasey Watters and who teaches at another studio in town.

As for former student and instructor since the age of 16 Kim Sandstrom (now Smith— she married Kara and Erin’s cousin, Casey, from Colorado), “I got the best education, not only in dancing, but on life itself, on family and friendship, on being artistically creative. This place is where I grew up and learned to live.”

It’s hard for the 28-year-old dance instructor to think of leaving. So hard they didn’t tell their students until the rehearsal, afraid that the dancers wouldn’t be able to go on.

When it came time for their alumni to do the piece where they present Kim with a parting rose, the emotions are fresh and real and felt by the audience.

Kim’s departure from the Gallery at the end of August is so hard to discuss that both she and Erin tear up when they talk of it.

“She’s the perfect professional assistant,” shares Erin. “The dynamics of our relationship are such that she knows what I need before I even say it. We never need words.”

In fact, she says, “The most astonishing thing is that we all love working together, my sister and me, Kim and Janette, who has danced with us when we took lessons as kids, all our instructors. We love each other here. We love our dancers.”

“When we prepare to put on a show or a routine, we ask for input from everyone. It’s amazing how it comes together,” shares Kim, who Erin describes as the “conversion woman,” for her ability to mathematically figure out the timing of each routine. “We depend on each other for inspiration.”

So, prepare yourself to be inspired when you walk through that door along Bay Street. And, prepare to have a hard time leaving.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.