The End of an Era

by Jim Romenesko

Record-breaking Broadway blockbusters can’t hold a candle to the nearly sixty-year run of one of Appleton’s classiest acts, Marcia Fellows of Marcia’s School of Dance.

Citing the effects of the Covid crisis on businesses in general and the performing arts in particular, Miss Marcia, as she is known by thousands of former students, has made the difficult decision to close her popular dance studio.

“Last week was really tough,” said Fellows, who operated the school with her daughter, Juliana Van Asten. “We would have begun our fall classes,” she mused. “We’ve come a long way since 1961.”

“After I had my second child, I decided I wanted to teach dance,” Miss Marcia reminisced.  “I held classes at the Freedom VFW, beginning with about twenty students.  That first season ended with a free recital held at the VFW hall in front of borrowed black curtains hung by family and friends.

“I really started with practically nothing – but I had a dream and wanted something better for the students and myself,” she said.

And her determination, dedication, and winning personality earned unending support from friends and family as the business grew. 

 “I can remember relatives painting scenery under the trees at my grandparent’s farm and then hauling the pieces across town in my grandfather’s coal-delivery truck,” she said with a smile.

Soon, the classes were moved to her parent’s home at the current Longview Drive location.  “I taught on the cement floor of the basement,” she remembered. “I waxed it to fill in the chips and cracks.” 

It wasn’t long before a bona fide studio wing was added to the house.

Her love for teaching was evident then as it is now.  “Working with young people,” she said, “you’re not only teaching how to dance, but to have self-respect, to work well with others, and to build self-confidence. Seeing a young person grow in those traits – that’s got to be one of the best compliments you could have,” she said.

This noble approach made Miss Marcia’s studio one of the most popular in the region.  And to top it off, she had a secret weapon – her mom.  

Miss Julie, as she was known by all at the studio, worked tirelessly to promote the school and when her efforts paid off in a record number of new students, she laced up her dance shoes and hit the floor to assist with teaching.  

“If a student came in fifteen minutes early, they didn’t sit around,” Marcia recalled with a smile.  “Miss Julie had them on the dance floor for extra lessons.”

Asked about her proudest moment, she doesn’t hesitate. “In 2001, we started a class for students with disabilities.  I’ll never forget the first time those girls performed for the other students at a dress rehearsal.  The kids and parents went wild, cheering like crazy.  My daughter and I stood backstage and wept.”

And that generous and innovative spirit has been officially recognized by the organization “Celebrating Abilities.”  A plaque in the studio honors Marcia and Juliana for “making a difference in the community by enhancing the way people with disabilities can develop and celebrate their abilities.”

Since the closing was announced, Marcia and Juliana have received “a great outpouring of memories, support and notes from former students.”  One that sums it up reads: “I wouldn’t be the person I am if it weren’t for you.”   

Thank you and brava, Miss Marcia, on life’s work well done!