Knecht’s Danceworks, Relocated in Pennington, Offers Complete Range of Dance Instruction
EXPERTISE AND EXPERIENCE: “In addition to instructing students and introducing them to all aspects of dance, a huge part of our program is building relationships. We’ve had some students since they were 3 years old, and who have continued to come over the years. We offer a wonderful program for students of all ages and levels of ability.” Elise Knecht, left, and her daughter Ashlee, co-owners of Knecht’s Danceworks, are enthusiastic about their current program, which is on site and in person.
By Jean Stratton
For more than 60 years, the Knecht family has been sharing its dance expertise with students, audiences, and all those who love the dance in all its forms.
Established in 1959 by Fred and Joanne Knecht, Danceworks (then known as Knecht Dance Academy) has been a dynamic force in dance instruction, and it is a true family operation.
Their daughter Elise is now co-owner of the studio with her daughter Ashlee, who is the third generation to be actively involved. Both women also serve as instructors.
After many years in Bucks County, Knecht’s Danceworks moved to the Pennington Square Shopping Center on Route 31 in Pennington last year. Formerly the location of Karen Martin’s Dance Works of Mercer County, the spacious setting offers two state-of-the-art dance studios, featuring sprung and Marley floors, which are easier on the legs and feet and overall body health, points out Elise Knecht.
All the Time
“Ashlee worked with Karen Martin, and we knew this location, and really liked Pennington,“ she says. “We thought it was a nice area, and would be a good location for us.”
Many of their Pennsylvania clients have joined them in Pennington, she adds, and new ones are signing up all the time.
Because of Danceworks’ widespread and varied experience, Elise believes her company offers a special set of opportunities for dance students.
Not only do they provide high-level instruction, but the Knechts also have performed professionally in many settings.
“Both my parents were educated in dance, and were professional dancers, says Elise. “My father taught master classes in the U.S. and abroad.”
Fred and Joanne Knecht performed in nightclubs and on the stage. Joanne made her Broadway debut at the age of 18, and with Fred, she played every nightclub in the Philadelphia area, reports Elise. Before meeting Fred, she owned and operated Joanne Dubois’ School of Dance, and created the Tiny Tot program still used at Danceworks.
Fred is known as the “father of jazz dance,” and has received multiple lifetime achievement awards from national dance organizations across the country. As a member of Dance Masters of America, and certified in both Pennsylvania and New York City, he has judged, taught, and choreographed nationally and internationally.
Elise followed in her parents’ footsteps (literally!), and has danced professionally in New York City, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and the Bahamas. She is also a member of Dance Masters of America, both in New York City and Pennsylvania, where she also served as vice president of the Pennsylvania Association of Dance Teachers. As a judge and choreographer, Elise has worked across the country for national dance competitions. She continues to teach and choreograph for Danceworks.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old,” she says, “and it has been my passion. Now, I love the instruction, and I love working with the kids, and interacting with them, hearing all about what they are doing in school, and what they like. I love being able to share my knowledge with them and also with the teachers.”
Ashlee Knecht has also been a competitive dancer, training with Mandy Moore, Jerry Mitchell, and Ann Reinking. A graduate of Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester, she specializes in teaching ballet and lyrical dance at Danceworks in addition to her work as co-owner.
She also continues to work for numerous dance competitions as an adjudicator, and has been a guest teacher for Dance Masters of Pittsburgh and Dance Masters of Michigan.
At Danceworks, lessons are available in a variety of dance genres and for students of all ages and abilities. Ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical (a combination of jazz and ballet), hip-hop, and acrobatics are all offered, and both boys and girls participate.
Age and Ability
Classes are one hour and are generally categorized by age and ability. Students can start as young as 2 and 3 years old. The Someone Special and Me program is for a parent and child 18 months to 2 years old, and includes songs, coordination exercises, and socializing.
Tiny Tots is designed for children, ages 3 to 5, and helps students develop coordination, listening skills, and musicality. The young dancers learn ballet, tap, and tumbling elements, using songs and games.
Kinderdance is for ages 5 and 6, and focuses on a combination of jazz and hip-hop. The latter is a real opportunity for students to find their “groove’ while learning how to count and move to current music. They explore rhythm, coordination, and musicality, in a free flowing style.
Ballet is the core of all dance training. Through the Knecht program, young dancers gain structure, improve posture, and work though proper body alignment, while learning grace and poise. They also strengthen their control, flexibility, and technique at the barre, and across the floor. They will learn proper ballet terminology and history. Pre-Pointe and Pointe are available to students as they progress.
Jazz is very popular, and is an exhilarating style that combines attitude and technique and energy. Students ages 6 and up learn proper warm-up, coordination, flexibility, and musicality exercises. As the class progresses, dancers will move on to technical elements, such as turns, leaps, kicks, and combinations.
Knecht’s Tap program is very beneficial in helping students gain rhythm and coordination. Dancers learn basic ways to move and create “sounds” using their feet. As the levels progress, students will add intricate and difficult patterns while improving their timing, musicality, and strength.
The Lyrical program is a perfect opportunity for the dancer looking to improve technique and express their ability through fluidity and grace. It is a combination of jazz and ballet, and teaches dancers how to interpret age-appropriate music.
Acrobatics is another favorite of the students. A combination of gymnastics and contortion elements, it integrates the fluidity and grace of ballet, jazz, and lyrical. Students improve their flexibility and strength, as they learn how to stretch and hold contortion moves. As levels progress, the class begins to introduce tumbling elements in a safe environment.
Students ages 6 and up can take classes in any of the dance styles, and Elise Knecht emphasizes the importance of helping students learn the elements of the various dance forms while having fun.
Classes are now in person too, and that has been a plus, she points out. “Coming here in person has been very positive for students. They welcome the socialization, especially when so much in their lives has been virtual, including school, etc. The parents are also so grateful that the kids can be here in person, and enjoy seeing them happy and enjoying dancing.
“Also, it is so important to keep the students motivated. I try to help them set a goal, and focus on improving one thing, and this helps them build confidence, as they see improvement. They will be encouraged, and ready to do more. In addition, we try to emphasize not worrying about what other students are doing, and not comparing themselves to others.”
The majority of students are ages 10 to 15, she reports, and of course, they vary in ability, motivation, and interest. There are serious students who hope to go forward with professional careers, as well as those who are just enjoying the opportunity to have fun and learn new skills.
Recitals in which all of the students participate are held each year in June, and in addition, reports Elise, “We look forward to performing at community events and for organizations, such as assisted living and long-term care facilities, when the COVID regulations allow it.
“We are also a member of the Pennington Small Business Association, and we want to be a real part of the community here.”
Over the years, Knecht’s students have gone on to success in various areas of the dance and performing arts. They have won more than 20 Miss Dance of America titles, a Mr. Dance of America, and other awards. Hundreds of students have performed on Broadway, including the first “Annie” (Andrea McArdle). On screen, another Knecht’s student, Aileen Quinn, played “Annie,” and numerous “orphans” were portrayed by former Knecht students.
“While many of our students graduate to careers in the performing arts, our goal is to lead and teach our students that they are capable of anything in many fields while growing and learning in a safe and positive environment,” explains Elise Knecht.
Creating a safe environment is even more crucial while COVID is still a factor, and Knecht’s Danceworks follows all the state regulations and safety precautions. All surfaces are wiped down between classes, and the floor is cleaned every night.
Two waiting rooms are available, one for parents and one for the students. Class sizes are limited, and dancers are required to wear masks.
Adult classes are also offered in ballet and tap on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Most of the adults have had prior dance experience, but it is not required, says Elise. “Many of them come for a fun way to have exercise and enjoyment.”
Knecht’s Danceworks will hold Open Houses on September 8 and 9 from 5 to 8 p.m., when visitors can register and learn about the programs.
Classes are held Monday through Saturday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tiny Tots and Someone Special and Me classes are available Tuesday and Saturday mornings at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Dance supplies, clothing, and accessories, including leotards and shoes, are also offered for purchase.
Elise Knecht is enthusiastic about introducing even more students to the joy of dancing. As she points out, “We are very happy in our new location, and we look forward to welcoming new students, and helping them discover our special programs and the longtime pleasure of dancing.”
For more information, call (609) 737-7338 or (215) 869-2945; and visit the website at knechtdance.com.