Featured in the Echoe-Sentilel
By DENIS J. KELLY, Editor
LONG HILL TWP. – Six months after Hurricane Sandy, a local business is ready to hold a grand re-opening.
Not, this isn’t about a business down the shore, or along Raritan Bay.
This is a story about a business in Long Hill Township.
The Grand Re-Opening of Take Flight Dance Center will be held from noon to 4 p.m., this Saturday, May 11, at 120 Stone House Road, Millington.
Broadway star of “Stomp” Mindy Haywood and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Principal Dancer, Patricia Dingle-Killpack, will teach Master Classes.
Students from Long Hill Township, Warren Township and all around at Take Flight Dance Center will have reason to celebrate this Saturday at the center’s grand re-opening in Millington. The center’s roof blew off during Hurricane Sandy. After six months, and the kindness of many in the area, the dance center is ready to go back home to Millington
Dancers with a minimum of one year of dance experience are welcome to attend. Registration information is available at www.takeflightdance.com.
Visitors are welcome to the celebration. Tours and refreshments will be available for for guests.
For more information, call (908) 350-8150.
“Take Flight Dance Center’s name represents that the school is a training ground for dancers, offering professional instruction for their dreams to ‘take flight,’” said Jill Cookingham, the founder, owner and artistic director. “Who knew that Hurricane Sandy would take the name so literally when our roof ‘took flight.’ The entire roof blew off the building and the studio was completely destroyed.”
Help From The Community
Cookingham said the struggle to re-open included helping hands from the community.
“The studio would not be back if not for the people in this community,” Cookingham said. “Pure Energy Fitness in Warren took us in with open arms. The parents and the students of the studio never wavered in their passionate and compassionate support. The rebuilding process has been slow and painful. The future was very uncertain with both the insurance money and getting the building repaired. Yet everyday when I would see the kids again, all thoughts of giving up went away.”
Dance is a passion for Cookingham, she said, and dance at Take Flight Dance Center is more than physical exercise.
“Through dance, kids can express what they are feeling when they might not be able to put it into words,” she said.
Cookingham was the dance instructor for the Junior Olympic National Gymnastics Team at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in 2008.
Her students have gone on to professional dance careers and received full scholarships to college. But she said the most rewarding thing for her is to see the self-esteem and confidence that dance develops in all of her students.
She is very excited to have her special guest dancers this Saturday leading lessons at Taking Flight.
“Patricia Dingle-Killpack, a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, will be teaching excerpts from the famous ‘Revelations,’” she said. “Mindy Haywood, star of the Broadway show ‘Stomp,’ will also be teaching and signing autographs.”
The Take Flight dance studio is in the TIFA Complex, next to the NJ Transit train station in Millington.
“We are the only building that has its entrance on Stone House Road,” she said.
The dance studio is on the second floor.
So what damage did her studeio sustain in the hurricane?
“The entire roof blew off the building,” she said. “The top of the building was completely exposed. The ceiling tiles got wet and fell onto the floor. The dance studio had a state of the art spring floor that was ruined as well as the mirrors, the stereo equipment etc. The stairs and second floor needed to be completely gutted.”
There was a period of two months when it seemed that nothing was done and the future was very uncertain, she said.
In February, the building repairs began, and in March, she became involved with the restoration of the “dance” parts of her studio.
“My contractors submitted plans and started rebuilding the space into a dance studio again,” Cookingham said. “During this time period I needed to go back and forth with Long Hill Township for permits, inspections, and such. Long Hill Township was very co-operative and made the experience as easy as possible. The insurance money paid for most of the repairs, with a little help from my mom.
In the interim, she was able to carry on her business by renting space from Pure Energy Fitness in Warren.
“We were closed for two weeks while the entire area was without power,” she said. “The owner at Pure Energy, Christine Quinones was our angel of mercy. On our first meeting, she said something like ‘we women business owners need to stick together and help each other out.’ Her entire staff welcomed us in and I will forever be grateful. Warren Township allowed me to put up a temporary sign as well.”
A Dance Gypsy
Cookingham describes herself as a, “gypsy in the professional dance world, dancing in concert performances, theatrical revues and touring with Broadway shows. I lived in New York City, the dance capitol of the world, and studied with the world’s best teachers.“
She holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Rutgers University, New Brunswick.
Cookingham’s training in ballet includes with Madame Gabriella Darvash. Darvish is featured in the book, “The Art of Teaching Ballet/Ten Twentieth Century Masters.” Darvish has trained the best classical ballet dancers in the world, Cookingham said.
Her musical theater, Jazz and Contemporary dance background includes training with Michael Owens, who trained many notable dancers on Broadway, Cookingham said, and the dancers in the movie “Chicago.”
She also trained with Mia Michaels of “So You Think You Can Dance,” Diana Laurenson of Fosse Repertory, and John Medeiros, a master teacher and choreographer.