Franklin School of Dance Marks 75th Anniversary
School on North Water Street is a mainstay in Kent
During the past 75 years, thousands of area residents of all ages, sizes and abilities have learned the art of motion at The Franklin School of Dance in Kent.
Owner and director Chi Chi Ward – who began taking lessons from business namesake Bill Franklin when she was just 3 years old – is excitedly planning the studio’s 75th annual recital.
The event, featuring dancers who range in age from 3 to over 70, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. June 11 at the Ravenna High School auditorium. Tickets are $10 pre-sale through Thursday, then $13 at the door.
Multiple generations of families have patronized the studio since its 1936 founding in the basement of Bill Franklin’s home in Stow. Ward herself has a multi-generational connection to the studio.
Not long after starting his Stow studio, Franklin branched out and established five more dance studios in Portage, Summit and Stark counties. His main studio, or headquarters, was the Kent location above the former Wright’s Department Store on Main Street.
“He was basically the only dance teacher around at that time,” Ward said.
In 1948, Ward’s mother, Betty Rundquist, enrolled the first of her three children in a variety of Franklin’s classes, not knowing she would one day own the Kent studio. Rundquist thought the lessons in ballet, jazz, baton and acrobatics were so important she gladly drove her kids back and forth from Hartville two to three times weekly.
In 1965, Rundquist began doing secretarial work at the school in exchange for lessons for her children. About five years later, she bought the business and moved the Kent studio to its first of two North Water Street locations.
"Her dream was for me to own the business one day," Ward said appreciatively. "It’s a family affair. It’s my life."
Bill Franklin continued to teach at the school until about 1985, when illness forced him into permanent retirement. He died two years later, but Rundquist felt it was important that the studio continue to bear his well-known and respected name.
Ward —who began teaching at the school when she was a high school junior in 1972 – said her mother continued running the dance studio until July 2003, when she handed the reins to her daughter. Now nearly 90, Rundquist lives in Hartville and keeps tabs on the business through her daughter.
Ward’s own children, Brittany, 24, and Scott, 20, took a variety of dance classes at the studio throughout their formative years.
Ward said one of the greatest things about the studio’s longevity is the sense of family it fosters – and not just because multiple generations of families have taken classes there.
“Throughout the years I’ve watched children support each other and build friendships here that last a lifetime,” Ward said.
On a recent class day, Kent resident Becky Haines sat in the waiting room while her granddaughters had their dance lessons. It’s a very familiar room for Haines, as she spent years there waiting as her own three children took an array of classes.
Haines said she appreciates the school for its acceptance of everyone and the nurturing environment it provides.
“I don’t like putting kids in high-pressure situations. Here, they’re always learning and increasing their self-esteem and confidence. There’s an encouragement to grow and improve without that pressure that causes them to crash,” Haines said.
Ward works to ensure that the studio environment is “very relaxed and easygoing. We work with everybody and provide extra help to those who need it.”
Through the years, the studio has had one long-term student who was blind and another who was deaf. The oldest student to date was a 91-year-old man who needed a cane to walk, but he still managed to take the tap dancing lessons he always dreamed of.
While The Franklin School of Dance does not enter competitions, there are opportunities throughout the year to perform publicly. In addition to the annual recital, Ward said students perform at the Kent Heritage Festival, at area nursing homes during the holiday season and they participate in the Memorial Day parade.
Ward and three other instructors teach classes in tap, jazz, ballet, pointe and hip-hop. An open house and registration will be held in August. For more information about The Franklin School of Dance, call Ward at 330-673-5419.