Keeping dancing alive
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Standing, left to right: Devina Fernandez, Gail Oldfield, Melody Kline, Jeffrey Fernandez, Debbie Kaintz, Jeffrey Fernandez, Jr. and front, Ava and Bree Fernandez, pose just before Melody's final recital. All performed, making it a true family affair.
Little girls want to grow up to be teachers, nurses and ballerinas.
Little Melody Paduani wanted to be a dancer. She was born to dance. Her mother, professionally known as Miss Chickie with her own dance studio for 50 years, was a dance teacher who taught her five children to dance from the time they were old enough to stand.
Melody was the youngest of Miss Chickie and David Paduani's five children and began dancing at the age of three years old.
"Mom didn't just teach us. She took us into New York City for lessons as well," says Melody Kline of Kresgeville.
Melody attended the High School of Performing Arts (the Fame school).
"I traveled from Staten Island to Manhattan every day. I also took piano lessons," she says.
Melody and her oldest sister, Gail, danced in a studio above the Ed Sullivan Theater where David Letterman's show is taped.
Her dream was to be a Rockette like Gail, who danced with the famous Radio City Music Hall dancers for four years. But unfortunately, she stopped growing at 5'2" and to be a Rockette you had to be at least 5'5-1/2".
After graduating, her first job was with the Berry Dance Group in Staten Island, a dance studio. She married and had three children, still dancing and teaching. She and her family moved to Pennsylvania in 1976.
She first offered dance classes in the area at the Trachsville Fire Co. one day a week on Saturdays. One parent told her she was tired of driving there and asked her why she didn't open a studio in Palmerton. Melody did just that at the First United Church of Christ on Delaware Ave. She opened a studio, with her mom Miss Chickie, at 222 Delaware Ave. and held classes five to six days a week, bringing in another teacher, Tammy Dobias. That studio later moved to 748 Mauch Chunk Road.
Melody and her husband built a new home in Kresgeville and the two-car garage became a studio where she held classes. Then in 1984, she opened another studio at the intersection of Rt. 115/Rt. 209 in Brodheadsville. After a horrific fire burned the building down, she moved the studio to the West End Plaza in Brodheadsville. In 1996, she opened another studio in Albrightsville with her son Jeffrey as the director. In 1997, she opened yet another studio in Wind Gap where her daughter, Jeanine was the director. At one time, she had five studios. But over the years, one by one she closed them down, due to many factors. Today, only one studio remains open and that is the Brodheadsville site.
Over the years, she has taught dancing at various local colleges, including Cedar Crest College.
Recently, Melody made the decision to retire. Well, sort of. She plans to continue dancing but no longer wants to run the business. She has turned the keys over to her son, Jeffrey and his partner of 17 years, Debbie Kaintz. Melody says she will continue to teach a class or two and she plans to keep on dancing as a founding member of Tap Ties, an adult performing tap dancing troupe.
"I love to perform and I plan to keep dancing as long as I can. My mom was still dancing until she passed away at age 78," says Melody.
While she may be stepping down from running a business, she will continue driving school bus for CLIU-21. In her association with special needs children, she initiated dance classes for children with special needs because "Every child is special," and it makes her feel good to see how much they enjoy learning to dance.
Besides dancing, Melody loves to travel and swim. "I love being near the water."
She plans to spend more time with her seven grandchildren (all dance except the youngest) and her nieces and nephews.
When Melody's son Jeffrey learned his mom was thinking of retiring and giving up the studio, he immediately knew he wanted to keep it going.
He started dancing "probably when I started walking. My sisters and I went with Mom when she taught classes. I took tap lessons from my grandmother and she taught me routines."
He also loved gymnastics and took classes at International Gymnastics in Bartonsville.
One day a friend had an extra ticket for the TV show "Dancin' On Air" in Philadelphia, the forerunner for "Dance Party, USA" and invited Jeffrey, a seventh grader at the time. After only dancing for an hour, in his Eddie Murphy black leather pants, he was asked to come back every week as a regular.
"Mom took me out of school every Wednesday and drove me to Philadelphia. We'd tape two shows. I did it for a few months," says Jeffrey.
"It was the driving back and forth and staying there for the tapings that got to me," says Melody.
Jeffrey began teaching at his mom's studios before he was driving.
"My style involved what I learned in gymnastics with a lot of break dancing and free style."
He formed a group of boy break dancers and traveled all over to competitions and they performed often on the Mr. D show on Channel 13.
The father of three now, he works as an over-the-road truck driver to support his family but helps hosts dance birthday parties at the studio.
His partner, Debbie has only been dancing for the last six years, taking private lessons from Melody. She teaches a preschool class and the Mommy and Me class with 18-months-old to 2 1/2 year-olds and is the party coordinator.
Jeffrey and Debbie's children, Jeffrey Fernandez, Jr. 16, Bree, 10 and Ava, 4, all dance.
"I wanted to keep the family business going, making it a third generation business. I've always hoped to be back involved with the studio so this is a dream come true for me," Jeffrey says.
Melody knows the dance world is changing. "In today's world, you have to be a triple threat, able to dance, sing and act. It's not enough to just be able to dance. You don't see dance as recreational anymore, either. It's more competitive."
"You're seeing dancers come in for the competitions which they hope will lead to show business and the performing arts. We had four graduating seniors this year and two are going to college majoring in dance and musical theater," says Jeff.
One of Melody's tap students was Mark Schmiel of Palmerton.
"I took him to New York for classes. He performed in Euro Disney and appeared in "Damn Yankees" with Jerry Lewis on Broadway."
Melody used to take some of her students into New York City for classes with such dancing greats as Bobby Newbury, Savion Glover, Mandy Moore and Mia Michaels.
"I think it's important for students to know there are other teachers. To see other techniques."
Melody and her family give back to the community by participating in cancer marathons, Relay For Life, visiting Mrs. Bush's Personal Care Homes, performing at the Palmerton Hospital Festival/Community Festival and at the West End Fair for over 30 years.
Melody has choreographed dances for some of Pleasant Valley's elementary school plays and for the Palmerton Centennial celebration and Jeff helped choreograph routines for the Palmerton Hospital teas.
Melody's last dance recital was held on June 23 at the Lehighton Area High School. It was bittersweet and a family affair, with Melody performing with her children and grandchildren and sister, Gail Oldfield of Kimberton, Pa., who is now 72. Gail still dances professionally with the Silver Sizzles and is vice president of the Rockettes alumni association.
Stepping down doesn't mean Melody has hung up her dancing shoes.
"I'll never stop dancing," says a little girl now all grown up, who got to live out a dream come true.