Trudy's School of Dance celebrates 75 years of keeping dancers on their toes

  • Trudy's School of Dance students perform during a recital in June. (File/Grace Beahm/The Post and Courier)
  • A true family business, Trudy’s is now owned by Linda Oltmann Walker (from left) and Tiffany Oltmann Gauch DiPrima — the daughter and granddaughter, respectively, of the legendary Trudy, now 92. (File/Grace Beahm/The Post and Courier)

Dance classes offer many benefits for little girls and boys: New skills and friends, exercise, an appreciation for the arts and more.

But at Trudy's School of Dance on James Island, dance is also about being a part of the family - a legacy that stretches back to the studio's founding in 1939 by Trudy Oltmann. A true family business, Trudy's is now owned by Linda Oltmann Walker and Tiffany Oltmann Gauch DiPrima - the daughter and granddaughter, respectively, of the legendary Trudy, now 92.

The studio hasn't missed a beat in 75 years, sharing the joy and art of dance with thousands of Lowcountry residents who keep coming back for more. (Several students are celebrating more than 35 years of taking dance at Trudy's!)

Here, Linda and Tiffany share their thoughts about the Oltmann family's lifelong commitment to teaching dance, how the art has evolved through the years, and the lessons they've learned at Trudy's.

What do you think has been your secret to success all these years?

Linda: We have a family feel here. Everybody says that when they walk in our door here, they feel like they're a part of the family. That's the way Trudy always had it, and how she taught me and my sister, Judy Oltmann Bennet (who retired as co-director of the school in 2008). They know how Tiffany and I were raised in the studio to treat people and that we have the best interest in mind for them and their kids.

How long have you been dancing?

Linda: Since I was 3. I'd go with my mom when she was in the studio teaching. She didn't have a babysitter back then, so she took me to the studio with her. Same thing for Tiffany. We joke that we started dancing right out of the womb, but age 3 is when we officially started and went on stage.

How has the dance world changed through the years? What are some of the new trends in dance?

Tiffany: I think it's just the genres have change a little bit. I remember back when I was little it was just ballet, tap, and jazz. Now we have contemporary, hip-hop and ballet fusion. . There is still is jazz tap, and ballet, but now when someone comes into studio there are many more classes. They come to take one class and end up taking two or three or four.

Linda: I remember when hip-hop started. People said it was just a trend, but now it's been 15 to 20 years. A lot of people get tired of going to the gym, working out with weights or with DVDs at home - that can only stay fresh for so long.

What are the biggest joys of running a dance studio?

Linda: We love what we do. We're blessed to have a job that we love, being able to reach people through dance. They'll come in and say they're a terrible dancer: "Can you make me a great dancer?" We can make you a better dancer! For me, it's about the creativity and the people.

Tiffany: When at the end of a show you hear a younger child say they want to be able to dance like you or teach like you one day, it tugs on your heart strings a little bit. They're little sponges; it makes you realize how much you impact them. And, working with my mom isn't terrible either. (Laughs)

What are some of the toughest challenges?

Tiffany: I'd say losing a student, who started when they were 3, to college. That's tough, but it happens.

They become family. We have a room back here, we call it the teen or tween room. They bring their dinner and homework and hang out. It's like their second home here.

So, when they leave, it's tough. That last hug and that last show is tough. But they always come back and usually come back to dance when they finish college

Linda: I agree. Losing people that you have for so long is one of the hardest things that we have to do.

If you weren't a dance studio owner, what would your job be?

Linda: A dance student somewhere. I think Tiffany and I both had our doubts at one time. I swore I would never teach dance because I grew up in it, but my senior year in high school, my mom got really sick. I had to take over the studio and plan a show, and do it all myself in four weeks. I either had to do it or close the studio. When the show was over and the kids came up to hug me, I knew this is what I should be doing.

Tiffany: After college, I moved to San Diego and wrote for a music magazine. I stayed with the arts, but I kept gravitating back to dance. I surprised my mom one year and came back to the recital. I moved home shortly after that and came back to the studio.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned from dancing?

Linda: So many of my parents have said: "My child is not just learning steps here: She is learning about people, tenderness, respect, teamwork, pride, family."

They learn so much more by being involved in the school. They're not just numbers to us or last names. They are individuals. They have ups and down. We're there for them and they're there for us.

The lesson is: You're going to get back a lot more by being kind to people and sharing your passion, and it will pay you back tenfold.

Tiffany: Dance is an emotion. It comes from your soul and your heart and no matter how good you think you might be, that comes out when you put the music on. Students forget where they are. It transcends all levels and all ages for me.

What is the greatest lesson your mom ever taught you?

Linda on Trudy: She always said, that when those students were coming in, they're coming in to do what they love. Your responsibility as a teacher is to make sure you give them your all. If they come to a class and you can't get a smile from them during class, you're not reaching them, and you need to try harder. They're coming for fun, for enjoyment, and to learn. If they don't smile, you take them aside and see what's going on, but make sure you're giving them 100 percent. If you can't do that, you don't need to be teaching dance.

Tiffany on Linda: My mom always told me that whether it's in the studio or outside, Trudy's had a legacy, and there are a lot of people who know who you are and who look up to you for what you offer at Trudy's - dance or the family atmosphere. Every person who walks through that door, whether they're 2 or 82, you never know what's going on in their lives. So be aware, and if you see someone who's quieter than usual and they're not laughing or having a good time, something is going on and you might have to adjust your plan.

What's the one lesson you hope children who dance at the studio will learn?

Linda: Self-esteem, I think, if I had to pick one thing. Positive self-esteem and the sense of accomplishment that you can do anything. That affects your attitude about everything else. You have to be happy yourself, on the inside, before you can help other people.

Tiffany: You hear people say it's not about the destination, it's about the journey. It's so true. We have those people who come in and watch "So You Think You Can Dance" and say, "I'm never going to dance like her." Of course, she probably has been dancing for eight hours a day since she was 3.

But if they're here now, and they look forward to coming to class, that's all that matters. I have people say that this is the one hour they look forward to the whole week. For me, that does it right there.

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