At the end of May, to the surprise of more than a few little ladies, Cheryl Brett Dance Studio curtsied for the final time. After 45 years, it is now time for Cheryl Brett to rest her weary soles. The studio she established was a haven for young girls to have fun and become family. It was a place children began classes quietly and left as young adults full of poise and promise. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brett to reminisce about the past and discuss her plans for the future.
Brett began taking dance classes at the age of five and immediately fell in love. She took classes through school, both locally and at the Savannah Ballet. That love of dance led to the opening of her own studio at the age of 17. The Dance Factory, Brett’s first studio, was located on Main Street in downtown Hinesville in 1973. Years later, Brett taught classes all over the Coastal Empire. In 1989, she found her final home just outside of Hinesville, in the city of Flemington.
I was a student of Cheryl Brett Dance Studio, as well as a friend to her younger daughter. Being close to the family meant that I oftentimes got to see the “behind the scenes” of running a dance studio. I would visit my friend and see boxes upon boxes of tulle and sequins in the living room as Brett hobbled about after a knee surgery sorting costumes. I would see her in the grocery store, standing in first position, with a buggy full of supplies for a summer dance camp. Every time she saw me, a smile would lift her face and she’d say “Hey darlin’!” Brett, like so many teachers, dedicated her professional and personal life to encouraging and loving children.
Over the years, Brett and her studio would become a retreat for young ladies. “That was my favorite part, not just bonding with the dancers but seeing them interact with each other and getting to know their families,” Brett reminisced. She created a loving environment for young women who supported and empowered each other. This was done with the help of many parents, like Lori Hannes, students and great teachers over the years, like Holly Bitzer. The biggest supporter of Cheryl Brett Dance Studio was her father. She credits him with the reason she was so successful. He wasn’t just a cheerleader for her, but also a creator of props and studio signage. He saw in her the true potential she had to be successful.
Brett’s life has not been without its hardships. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, she battled through chemotherapy and its side effects as dedicated volunteers stepped in at the studio. In the summer of 2017, she would use her own struggle to support her grandson during his cancer treatments. It may be because of these struggles that she is looking forward to the time she’ll spend with her grandchildren now that she’s retired. All of which are boys, I’ll point out; no little ballerinas yet!
I can say, without the shadow of a doubt, that the dance studio was not her job, it was her passion. Every recital was filmed for the students and every dancer remembered. A special Christmas tree is erected in her living room each year to display the plethora of ballet dancer ornaments she was given by students. She was not “Cheryl Brett the ballet instructor,” she was “Mama Cheryl.” I can remember walking down the hall to my classroom each week seeing her tiptoeing about like Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker as a dozen little ballerinas unfurled behind her. The patience I would hear in her voice while teaching little girls what French words meant while also encouraging them to be graceful, will always be beyond me.
When asked about the future and how she’d like to be remembered, Mrs. Cheryl replied “I hope that children will always dance, because they love it. Our studio wasn’t just a dance studio, it was a second home to so many.” And I have to admit, she is absolutely right.
NOTE: Because no passion can ever really be retired, Cheryl Brett will be teaching dance classes at the Liberty County Recreation Department this fall. Please contact the LCRD office at 912- 876-5359 for more details.