By Rick Morwick
Sue Van Voorhis took her first dancing lesson at age 5. She did so after becoming a Shirley Temple fan.
That was 75 years ago.
Today, she’s still light on her feet and is, after 30 years of teaching at the Academy of Dance Arts in Fishers, a still a sought-after instructor.
“It comes from my soul,” said Van Voorhis, who celebrated her 80th birthday March 2. “(There’s) no other expression like it. It is beauty, joy, and it still is at 80 years old.”
A lifelong dancer and longtime instructor, Van Voorhis and a partner founded The Dance Academy in 1988 at 116th Street, across from the Municipal Building in Fishers. In 1999, she became the sole owner and changed the name to the Academy of Dance Arts.
Six years later, after outgrowing the 116th Street facility, Van Voorhis relocated the studio to its current location at 1008 E. 121st St., Suite 126, in Fishers. Her daughter and son-in-law, Laurie and Sean Brady, assumed ownership 11 years ago. But Van Voorhis, affectionately known as “Miss Sue,” has continued to teach at the academy and serve as director ever since.
She has no immediate plans to stop.
“It’s good for my soul,” said Van Voorhis, an Indianapolis resident. “Sharing my love and passion for dance with the young dancers keeps me feeling young.”
Van Voorhis, whose teaching career began in 1975 at The Dance Centre, still instructs four days a week at the Academy of Dance Arts, which offers classes in ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop and lyrical. She teaches pre-ballet, pointe, beginning ballet, elementary ballet and adult ballet.
Laurie Brady attributes the academy’s success and longevity to her mother’s personal touch.
“The nurturing and non-competitive environment at ADA is part of what makes it so special,” said Brady, a Noblesville resident. “Parents tell us all the time that their daughters and sons feel supported and loved by their teachers and peers, and that is because of the ‘one big family’ foundation that Miss Sue created 30 years ago.
“With everyone supporting each other, we find our dancers love being at the studio together. Amid all the hard work in class, there is always laughter and joy in the air.”
An accomplished performer, Van Voorhis studied with renowned Ballet Russes member Jorg Fasting and has had leading roles in “Swan Lake” and “Cinderella,” among other classic ballets. She spent several summers in New York City studying ballet before moving to Indianapolis in 1962, eventually performing in a host of Footlite Musicals and Sheraton Dinner Theater productions, including “Sweet Charity,” “Anything Goes,” “Kismet” and “Annie Get Your Gun.”
She has also danced with the Indianapolis Opera Company in “Carmen.”
Although she is retired from performing, Van Voorhis — who battled polio at age 7 and practiced ballet as therapy — maintains a robust teaching schedule. She enjoys working with dancers of all ages and is passionate about what is a true family venture. Her granddaughters are Academy of Dance Arts veterans, and her other daughter, Julie Meyer of Jamestown, is the artistic director.
“But our dancers are also like family,” Van Voorhis said. “Many of our dancers graduate and go away to school and come back to the studio and take classes. I am teaching many of my old students’ daughters. Many of our dancers come back and continue to take classes as adults. They also bring their children.
“What a joy it is to see my old students come back and not only bring their children but join my adult class.”
For more on Academy of Dance Arts, visit adadancers.com.