by Patric Lewandowski
The Sartell Community Education Dance held its annual fall recital Dec. 2, just as it has for the past 30 years. Only, this year, the long-standing community tradition had some changes: the show was in December instead of November and long-time lead dance instructor Shelly Teff handed over the reigns to her protégé Hannah Ronyak.
While the dance shows have always had a theme, this year was the first-ever Christmas-themed dance recital.
“I didn’t plan it as a Christmas show,” Teff said, “but as a show in December at the request of several of my parents who are deer hunters. When we were planning and I told everyone Hannah would be taking the lead, I asked for suggestions for what type of show, and one of my dance moms, Raelynn Justin, said let’s do a Christmas show.”
Not only was the show moved to December, but this year Teff handed off the lead dance-instruction position to Ronyak, a former dance student of hers, as well as an assistant instructor.
“I picked Hannah last year when dance ended,” Teff said. “When it was the end of the spring dance show, I thought long and hard who would I want? Hannah is used to a lot going on. She’s used to having her name said a million times because she’s in a family of seven siblings. She’s great with kids of all ages because of her household. She had been in dance with me forever and an assistant.”
Ronyak is stepping in to fill some very big shoes, but she’s a familiar and comforting face for the dancers. When asked about taking the lead role for the first time, Ronyak said, “Shelly has always treated us more like peers than assistants. It’s just kind of how she works. It was a little scary walking into the classroom when she was not around and knowing I didn’t have her right there next to me. I did realize though that she was there with me if I needed anything. Just a call away, you could say. It was a lot of responsibility but also very enjoyable and totally worth it.”
Ronyak brings with her not just years of experience as a student in the program, but also time as one of Teff’s closest assistants.
“She’s like a daughter to me,” Teff said. “Hannah has the qualities I cherish in a dance teacher: the love for community ed, the concern and love for the children, and just making sure everyone was having fun and enjoying it.”
It’s clear what Teff is referring to when watching Ronyak for even a few minutes with her students. When asked about what she hopes to give her students, Ronyak said, “I think what I want to bring my students is something I told them to bring to the audience before the dance show yesterday, something they’ve brought me the entire quarter: I want to bring them a smile that never leaves. Deep down inside I want them to know how loved and appreciated and special they are. I want each of them to know how honored I am to be a part of their lives. And how I will not take that for granted.”
While Teff has been a pillar of Sartell Community Education Dance as the lead instructor, she’s now moving into a new supporting role. She still emcee’d the dance show, managed costumes and even pitched in to help teach a class throughout the quarter. Even though she’s transitioning to this new role, Teff is confident in the future.
“I’m so proud of Hannah,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better person to take my place.”
The next big event for Sartell Community Education Dance is only a few months away with the 30th anniversary show this spring, with classes leading up to the show starting in February. While neither teacher would reveal any details for the big show, it’s safe to assume it will be amazing and fun for all their students.