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Dance teacher Jan Moore retires after 37 years (w/video)

By Elena Watts
May 26, 2014 at 12:26 a.m.
Updated May 27, 2014 at 12:27 a.m.

Ayla Way, 5, imitates Jan Moore as she does a dog paddle motion while hosting a pool party Thursday to celebrate her dance class's final recital. Moore, the third owner of the dance studio on Stayton Avenue, is retiring and passing on the tradition of the studio to one of her former students.

One of Victoria's cherished dance teachers is hanging up her dancing shoes.

Jan Moore Hamilton, Jan Moore School of Dance owner, recently presented her last recital. The third owner of the dance studio, which Lillian Cain opened in 1939, has retired after 37 years. Aubrie Shugart, her assistant teacher of eight years, plans to continue the 75-year dancing tradition in the same studio.

Hamilton is a phenomenal teacher, said Kathleen Carey, who was an assistant teacher for Cain. Carey helped teach the young Hamilton to dance and enrolled her own granddaughter in Hamilton's school many years later.

"The children adore her from the time they are 3 until they graduate and go on to do bigger and better things," Carey said. "And that's unusual."

The theme of Hamilton's last recital was appropriately called "Happiness is Dancing."

Everyone advised her to "enjoy the moment" as she watched her students dance for the last time at the Sunday matinee in the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts. Before the performance, her oldest students hugged her on stage.

"We love you, and we'll miss you," they told Hamilton.

During the first dance, Hamilton watched offstage as her most advanced students showed the audience the best of what the Jan Moore School of Dance taught.

"I was OK, but then I lost it," Hamilton said. "So many of them I had when they were 3 were now 16."

Hamilton looked at her husband of 31 years, John Hamilton, and asked him how she would make it through the next two hours.

"Watching children grow, starting at whatever age," was the most fulfilling aspect of owning the studio, Hamilton said. Many shy students bloomed through dance, which built their confidence and allowed them to express themselves, she said.

Hamilton's studio has illustrious roots that begin with original owner Lillian Cain.

According to a Sept. 17, 1939, edition of the Victoria Advocate, "Mrs. Cain studied with many celebrated teachers ... (in) Hollywood, California, where she spent the summer studying with Ernest Belcher, Nico Charisse, formerly soloist of (the) San Francisco and Chicago Opera, and Fanchon Marco."

Lillian Cain School of Dance hosted summer camps in which Cain recruited famous dance instructors, including Robert Joffrey, of the Joffrey Ballet Company, and Nico Charisse, first husband of musical movie star Cyd Charisse, Hamilton said.

In the 1930s, Victoria's only dance instructor announced her retirement, which prompted community leaders to find another. They approached Cain, who owned a studio in San Marcos, about teaching their children. Cain opened her first studio in a building on Commercial Street that has since been supplanted by the Victoria Public Library. The studio moved to another location before Cain built her new studio at 408 W. Stayton in 1952.

"I began taking classes from Lillian Cain when I was 4 years old," Hamilton said. "She was so strict. We all looked up to her. She was a wonderful teacher."

Students continued to practice their dancing for seven years, 1970 to 1977, in the same studio under the tutelage of second owner Carol Franz. Hamilton wanted to dance professionally until her freshman year at Victoria College when she began assisting Franz.

"I knew then that I wanted to work with children, that I wanted to teach," Hamilton said. "When they are young, they develop rhythm and coordination, poise and grace."

Dance and music also offer students a therapeutic refuge, she said.

"How can you be sad when you're dancing?" Hamilton asked. "Dancing brings joy; music brings joy."

After one semester at the University of Texas at Austin, Hamilton realized she wanted to teach at home in Victoria. She was Franz's assistant teacher for five years.

"Honey, hang in there, I want to sell this to you one day," Franz told Hamilton.

In 1976, Hamilton received the call. At 24, she purchased the studio as she finished business school at the University of Houston-Victoria. Jan Moore School of Dance opened in 1977.

Hamilton took great pride in continuing Cain's classical teaching style.

"It's so incredibly hard to live up to the discipline of the art," Hamilton said. "But I knew how I became who I was."

As Hamilton continued to "execute ballet properly," and present professional recitals, she brought her own personality to the role.

"I wanted children to feel loved, too," Hamilton said. "I really cared for each one of them."

The recital was the highlight each year that kept the students motivated, she said. The grueling months were always September through December, when students perfected their techniques at the barre. Ballet was difficult for the students but improved other forms of their dancing, Hamilton said.

"That's when they would want to quit, and I'd tell their parents to hang on," Hamilton said.

Each January, Hamilton determined the theme, the songs and the costumes for the May finale, and she began teaching the students their dances.

Her favorite of the 37 recitals was her last.

"All the girls knew their numbers," Hamilton said. "I knew it was the last one, and it was unbelievably emotional."

She also remembered recitals such as "Baby's First Year," "A Trip to Disney World," and "New York, New York," fondly.

Angela McCord McGarity, 36, studied dance under Hamilton for 15 years before she danced her way through to Texas Christian University. She opened her own studio, Artistic Motion Dance Academy, in Crowley four years ago.

When she learned of Hamilton's retirement, she decided to dedicate her upcoming recital to her longtime mentor. The theme of her recital is "Never Forget Where You Came From."

Hamilton taught McGarity to teach each of her students with love and patience, as unique individuals and to push them when necessary.

"She allowed me to become my own person at a young age," McGarity said. "She gave me opportunities to choreograph and teach and grow earlier than most - and she never doubted me."

Hamilton will miss creating bonds with students and families more than anything else, she said.

She taught an average of 170 students ballet, tap and jazz each year. Her youngest pupils were three, and her oldest were adults. There was not an age limit, she said.

"This is the best career I could have ever imagined," she said. "I found my passion. I got to do what I love and make a living."

Hamilton began teaching Shugart when she was 3 years old.

"She is a beautiful dancer, works well with children and has a good rapport with the parents," Hamilton said. "I knew she was the only one."

Hamilton wants the children and grandchildren of her students to continue learning the traditional, classical ballet technique from Shugart.

Shugart described Hamilton as a second mother.

"She has inspired a lot of young girls," Shugart said. "I will definitely carry on her teaching of classical ballet and the kind heart she has."

Shugart teaches her first class as owner on Sept. 2.

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