When you think of Colorado you think Rocky Mountains. When you think Pueblo, you might think green chilies. And when you think of dance in southern Colorado, you think Sarah Shaw!
Sometimes, feelings are better expressed without words.
Through a different dialect in this studio in Pueblo, everyone speaks the same language: dance.
“It’s definitely an art, and it’s a passion,” nurse and former dancer Amanda Hanson said.
Things are done a little differently at Shaw’s dance studio.
“Sarah has always been the old school, you know? She would say that to me all the time: ‘Kathy, we are a little bit old school here,'” said Kathy Brown, one of Sarah’s early students and now a teacher at the studio.
“You just didn’t go in there and sort of halfway do it,” former student Leanne Piserchio Corsentino said. “You went in there and had to commit to all the practices.”
Shaw, the woman behind it all, needs no introduction–at least not in Pueblo, anyway. She was an icon of dance in the community for 56 years.
“Oh man! She is a celebrity here,” Hanson said. “Everybody knows Sarah Shaw. If you don’t know who she is in person, you know someone who danced for her.”
Shaw saw Donna Lira’s potential early on.
Lira has now been part of the studio for 43 years, and teaching for 29 years.
“Years and years ago when I started dancing, I didn’t think Sarah was going to be anything more than a teacher,” Lira said. “Growing throughout the years, the time you spend in this studio, you realize she’s more than that.”
“I was teaching about three or four classes at the time, and she came to me and said, do you think you want to drop out of school to teach dance?” Lira recalled. “At the time I was working at Sonic. Teaching dance has got to be better than working at Sonic.”
Lira took the leap of faith, and over the years, the two taught hundreds of students together, like Amanda Hanson.
Hanson danced for nearly 20 years.
“I really enjoyed performing,” Hanson said. “If you put all of it your whole heart and soul into that performance, it’s hard to not just break out in tears after.”
On April 10 of this year, Shaw unexpectedly died after surgery. The loss shook the studio to its core. She would have been 74 in June.
“Oh my god. I learned everything from her. I didn’t know how to do anything,” Lira said, her voice breaking. “I began teaching and she just threw me in, and said ‘I know you can do it.”
Shaw taught so much more than dance. From her, students also learned friendship. That’s something that you don’t think can be taught, but it starts by gathering in a circle at the end of every class and saying two little words: Friends Forever.
Those two words became the motto of the studio.
The words have a big impact even years later, and stick with dancers even beyond their time on the stage.
Right now there are some big shoes to fill, but Lira’s young nieces, Ricki and Ryan Cadena, are teaming up to continue Shaw’s legacy.
“I don’t think anyone could measure, no one could fill her footsteps,” Brown said.
“Nobody could fill in for Sarah, nobody,” Lira said.
“I’ve known for a long time, this something, I want to put, even the rest of my life into,” Ryan Cadena said. “She instilled confidence in every single student that she taught.”
“I hope we can live out her legacy and keep this place going and give everyone an authentic Sarah Shaw experience,” Ricki Cadena said.
After all, Shaw would want the show to go on.
“For me, I just want to make her proud,” Lira said. “She set such a big legacy here.”
A legacy of more than just dance recitals, but one that keeps showing friends are forever through dance.
“She much more than a dance teacher,” Cadena said. “So many people will tell she’s a member of their family, She has pushed so many young people in this town to be better people.”
“Everybody who is not a Sarah Shaw dancer, Boy! Did they miss out,” Lira said.
This year’s spring recitals are May 18 and 19. Saturday’s shows are at 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday’s shows are at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.