SKOWHEGAN — For generations of central Maine residents, Bradley Adams and his School of Dance in Skowhegan have been more than just an after-school activity.

Adams, 77, who will celebrate 60 years of dance recitals at the Skowhegan Opera House in May, has been an educator who teaches the steps of jazz, tap and ballet, but also instills some of life’s intangibles — self esteem, confidence, discipline and poise — on and off the stage, students and former students say.

“He is the reason generations of families have chosen his studio above others.His studio is his family,” said Sarah Jane Luce, 58, of Vassalboro, who is a lifelong student of Adams and continues to work for him in the front office of the studio on North Avenue and back stage for recitals. “And as he says, ‘Why would I retire when this is what I live to do every day.’ It gives him purpose to build self esteem in his pupils.”

Luce said dancers range in age from 3 years old to her own 58, but most of them are high school and middle school age.

“I’m still dancing,” she said. “Dance keeps you young. I dance with Brad on one of the numbers for the recital. I’ll be dancing the reunion number, and we’re also dancing with a group of four.”

Adams and his teams of dancers will perform May 15 and 16 at the Skowhegan Opera House. The theme this year is “Diamond Jubilee of Dance.” The colors are black and shiny silver.

“I’m a young 77,” Adams said between rehearsals this past week. “This is 60 years of dance and putting on recitals — that’s all I done since high school.”

Adams said that Mary Vanderhoff, his dance teacher for a chorus show at Wilton Academy in 1955, saw his ability to learn and to perform dance moves and hired him as an assistant in exchange for free lessons. Soon he was working for Vanderhoff, teaching her younger students.

“I fell in love with dance. I stayed after she taught my group and watched all the other groups, and I learned all their routines, too,” he said. “She said, ‘You have a spark. You ought to take some lessons.’ When she retired, she said, ‘Why don’t you take over the business,’ and that was just what I wanted to hear.”

That was 1965.

Adams said he has seen girls come through his program only to return years later with their own daughters and granddaughters. Sarah Jane Luce, who was one of the dance students he inherited from Vanderhoff when she retired, was a member of four generations of dancers for Adams a few years ago.

He said 10 years ago at his 50th annual recital he was surprised by a former student, Joyce Chittick, who went on to a professional dance career on Broadway and elsewhere. She showed up at the end of the chorus line of a dress rehearsal.

“I have had three that ended up as professionals here,” he said. “Two of them ended up in the same show of ‘Cats’ in New York — Chittick and Rudd Anderson.” Jake Primmerman, a former Bradley student, also went on to professional dance.

Dance mom Lola Davis, of Canaan, said her oldest daughter, Acelinn, 11, started dancing ballet and tap when she was 3 years old. Her other daughter, Brianna, now 3, also is starting out in dance.

Davis said she can see the growth and maturity emerging in Acelinn as she continues to dance, adding jazz, clogging and Irish dance to tap and ballet.

“She’s very confident; she’s a very confident kid,” Davis said. “She’s very poised — not just physically — it’s a state of mind. It’s also discipline. She has to get her homework done before she comes here. I feel like she gets along with others great, interacting. Dance has done a lot of things for her.”

She said the confidence learned from dance spills over into other aspects of her daughter’s life such as cooperation, self confidence, fitting in to roles in the community, learning about one’s self and toning the muscles of the entire body.

Acelinn said dancing with “Mr. Adams” is fun with his “mind twisting” steps that teach her a lot about life and the challenges of doing all the right moves. It’s like Adams is inventing new dance steps along the way, she said.

“I’m excited for the recital, but I’m not nervous,” she said of her own self-confidence. “I’d rather dance in front of 1,000 people than just two people.”

Josie Libby, 14, of Pittsfield, agrees on the benefits of dance and the discipline needed to perform well. She performs jazz, tap, clogging and hip-hop.

“I like that you can express yourself when you dance,” Josie said. “It’s something I have enjoyed since I was really little. Just being on stage and having confidence helps me with a lot of things in life — confidence in school and confidence in everything else I do. I really know what I’m doing when I’m dancing. It’s something I really understand and feel confident about.”

Past president of the Maine Dance Teachers Club, Adams attends seminars in Maine, New Hampshire and Canada and has taught adult workshops all over New England, as well as for the National Association of Professional Dance Teachers Association and the National Affiliated Artists and Dancers of America.

Adams got a chance in the 1980s to dance with the pros when “Chicago” came to Lakewood Theater in Madison. He said the all-New York cast came to his aerobic classes just to keep in shape. They suggested he audition and he got the job.

“I am looking forward to the 60th recital. It will probably be the biggest one that I’ve had,” he said of the estimated 120 dancers who will take the stage for the three-hour show next month. “I have close to 40 of my old timers that are coming back to do a number with me on stage. The music I’ve chosen for that is ‘Everything old is new again,’ which is apropos I think.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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