My Mentor Was a Gift.
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
When I was eight years old, my mother enrolled me in a local dance studio: Carol’s Cameos. Discouraging competition and cliques, and certainly not lax in her teaching, Carol emphasized supportive team work, intentionally encouraging a love of dance over adherence to repressive perfection.
Within walking distance, we sometimes went to her house (across the street from the studio). At that age, it was like seeing a superstar in the wild. Her house was beautifully decorated, she and her daughter dressed impeccably, her husband was handsome, even their dogs were adorable.
Known for her lectures in class, Carol was strict. Honestly, she frightened me a little, but I looked up to and respected her. When I was in middle school, she asked me to be a student helper, which entailed taking the youngest dancers to the bathroom when needed, being responsible for the music in class, demonstrating steps, and other similar responsibilities that groom a budding teacher.
It wasn’t long before I was babysitting her daughter and watching over her house and dogs while she was away on family trips. In time, she left me in charge of the studio when she was away. Carol was becoming a second mom in my life and teaching me about responsibility.
When I was in high school we began choreographing together, and I very fondly remember spending hours in the studio with her - working on dances, laughing and taking breaks to eat lunch or get ice cream or pie. In those breaks, she’d tell me about business accounting, class payments, studio costumes, music editing (this was the early 90’s, so use your imagination) and more.
Every time we’d leave her house, even if it was to go grocery shopping, she’d get dressed to impress, always wearing high heels and lipstick and carrying a stylish purse. When I asked her why she did this just to go grocery shopping she told me that image was very important when you ran a business. If your customers are going to see you, you better present yourself how you want to be seen.
After college and a couple of out-of-state jobs, circumstances brought me back to Gloversville and we picked up where we left off - except then, I was back as a young adult, insatiably hungry to learn and grow. I was soon teaching 15 hours a week, choreographing more than ever, and helping to plan recitals. She paid for me to go to NYC for training, encouraging me to bring new knowledge back to Carol’s Cameos (now called Studio 184). We were together almost daily, growing our friendship and bond and finishing each other’s thoughts.
She eventually talked to me about taking over the studio and creating an attic apartment for me to live in, and in one of the hardest decisions of my life that I sometimes look back on with a “what if”, I turned the opportunity down to take on a full-time engineering job. Who knows why we do the things we do?
A few years later, I left my wonderful life at Carol’s Cameos to begin my own journey - opening Troy Dance Factory. As an homage, I almost called it Studio 291. I don’t think I ever told her that, but she’ll know now. Always supportive, she answered my questions, and told me what she’d do differently. She’s helped backstage at all but one of my showcases. She is TDF family, and all of my performance dancers know her.
Carol taught and trusted me. She encouraged me and fueled my confidence, passion and growth. She took me in as a second daughter and gave me so much to model my life after. Honestly, I sometimes wish I could go back to how it felt teaching with her in our small town and spending each day together talking shop and being family. Sometimes life just takes us in different directions.
Without Carol Mattioni, my mentor and so much more, I can’t imagine where I’d be. I love and respect her to the depths of what cannot be seen, and I see Troy Dance Factory and all that comes from it as a continuation of her impact on me. In a sense, it’s hers as it is mine. I feel a never-ending gratitude and a well of debt owed, with a place in my heart bigger than I can even conjure the words to describe. Maybe I never said it quite this way but, “Thank you Carol”.
Column first featured in Collaborative Magazine