Laura Thornburg grew up dancing. She started lessons at age 5 in Greensboro, graduated from Guilford College with a Sports Management degree and came to Asheboro to work at a local dance studio. She met and married Zack Thornburg and stayed in Asheboro. She wanted to do her own thing, artistically, so in 2001 she opened Studio J Dance Center. For the first several years she was located at 105 Worth Street, until she moved to their current space on Taft Street.
She chose Guilford College because her dad coached basketball and golf there for 45 years. He took teams to a national championship in basketball and three in golf. “I get my competitive side from my Dad.” Her degree helps with the business side of the studio; facility and risk management and marketing her business in the community.
Since she opened the studio, hundreds of students have gone through her doors. She offers both recreational and competitive programs. When students graduate and leave her classes, they can walk into any college audition or classroom and hold their own.
Laura’s philosophy is simple – children should be children. Conservative choices in both music and costuming create a sense of modesty, which is important as children grow up. They learn a love of dance and good technique that will carry them through life, without being sexualized at an early age.
“We want girls (and boys) to have an understanding of their self-worth. We teach life lessons here in the studio, the biggest one is ‘Don’t quit when the going gets hard, push through.’” When her students move on in life to attend college or begin working, she feels they are more comfortable trying new things academically, artistically, and in their chosen career.
Laura offers a wide variety of classes and ages range from three years to adult. Up to 2nd Grade she focuses on technique, and developing a love of dance. Working on coordination, functioning as a group in class and teaching them how to wait their turn, all of these are designed to help them developmentally progress forward both at the studio and in school.
Since 1998, Laura has been a member of Carolina Dance Masters, Inc. an affiliate of Dance Masters America. She is currently an executive board member and the CDM chapter is one of three most active chapters in the country, with a large membership. They host a competition in the State that moves around each year to accommodate the members. They compete over a weekend, and it’s a lot of work to host over 500 routines in one weekend, but it’s fun to give the students the opportunity for extra competition so close to home. Additionally, CDM hosts their annual Conventions at the Koury Center with over 500 students in attendance.
With 165 students enrolled in classes, she has two rooms going Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 8:30 pm. There are six teachers, including Laura, who work with the students. Four are former students, and one teacher, Karrisa Lea is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) and has been with Laura for eight years. Even her Office Manager teaches classes!
In addition to her regular students, who range in age three to eighteen, Studio J offers two adult classes right now – beginning and intermediate clogging, and those students range from people in their 30s to well into their 60s.
Laura is currently gearing up for the end of the school year. On May 19th at 2:00 pm all her dancers will participate in an end of the year recital. It’s free, open to the public and held at Asheboro High School Performing Arts Center.
“We are so fortunate to have a state of the art facility available in our town. It has a larger stage and better technical equipment than most public high schools, and it makes for a much more professional performance.”
Once the recital is over, Laura and her team will gear up for summer classes. They offer half day summer camps for children age 4 to 10 in dance, and half day theatre camps for kindergarten through 5th grade. They also offer classes for students who want to try new subjects, or who are new to dance. For younger children age 3 to 7, this is a great way to expose them to dance without making a huge time commitment.
She also offers a summer intensive session with Master teachers – it’s a full week from 8 am to 4 pm for intermediate and advanced dancers age 8 to 18. She brings in experienced dance educators from around the country to teach the kids.
The Studio J family takes an educational trip every other year together – in 2017 56 people traveled to New York City. They saw two Broadway shows, and Laura arranged for her students to take classes with Yurel Echezaretta, a Master teacher who was also one of the original cast members of Aladdin and left that show to dance in West Side Story. They spent four days touring, taking the subway and soaking in the excitement of New York.
Two years before that the Studio arranged for 150 people to go to Disney. Laura arranged workshops on how to do a mock Disney audition and classes with a Disney Teaching Professional. The students were also taught how to pose for a head shot, how to dress for an audition, and at the end of the trip, they were able to perform on stage in front of a live audience. In 2019, the group will be returning to Disney.
Opportunities like these offer the students at Studio J an experience they will never forget, and give them a love of dance and a sense of self-worth that will carry them through life. Many past students of Studio J have gone on to careers in theatre, dance, and the arts including Robbie Anderson, Competition Director for Boogie Fever Dance Competition; Ivey Carroll, professional dancer with Elevate in Raleigh; Rebecca Anderson, a teacher at Studio J and has been accepted into a six week intensive course at the American Dance Festival at Duke University this summer; Kira White, performer in Horn in the West in Boone, and a dancer in The Lost Colony Outdoor Theatre in Manteo, NC; Elizabeth Lail, starred in Once Upon A Time, Black List, and her new series, Dead of Summer; Lauren Karaman, performed in NY, modeled and walked the runways of New York Fashion Week and Project Runway; and Tori Waynick, now Studio J’s Office Manager and a teacher. All of these students were part of the same group at Studio J and inspired each other to do better, be better, and achieve their dreams.
“I started dancing when I was 5, but Studio J is where I fell in love with dance. I began taking classes at the studio in 8th grade and every year added another class just wanting more. Over the next several years Studio J became a second home as I was there 3-5 days out of the week. The environment of the studio has always been nurturing and kind and Laura Thornburg is the best dance mom you will ever have. There was always an expectation of excellence and hard work, but I was free to love dancing without the pressure of being perfect. Studio J was much more about the passion behind dance than winning which, for me, has translated into a lifelong love for the arts and a career as a performer. I use the dance techniques that I learned at Studio J throughout my career – at auditions and for performances – and without it I might be out of a job. But more than anything, my time at Studio J fostered a love for dance that keeps me pursuing it even when I fail. The performing arts are a difficult field to be in and you have to have passion for your craft in order to survive. As a professional performer I will forever be grateful for the foundation that I received at Studio J and for the dance family it created that has supported me through so much.”
– Kira White
“I interviewed several local dance shops before entering my daughter, Emma, into a program. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was looking for in a dance program because I was never a dancer and I never saw myself as a ‘dance mom,’ but my daughter wanted to try dance, so off we went to visit studios. Not knowing what to really look for, I concentrated on the feeling I had when I entered each place. Was the staff welcoming? Was the owner visible? What values seemed to emerge from the pictures of the teams on the walls? Did the other dancers seem stressed or pushed too hard? One thing I did not think about before I was perusing the different studios was the impact a studio could have on my child’s personal growth and development. It did not even dawn on me that I would need to select a studio carefully to ensure its values and culture would be similar to ours; however, after a couple of visits, I began to see how costuming, song choice and an emphasis on doing well in school would impact my daughter. After visiting our local studios, one emerged as the best fit for my daughter and our family – Studio J Dance Center. We have been at Studio J for six years and with each passing year, we are more convinced that there is no place we’d rather have our daughter dance. This studio has everything we want for Emma. The teachers have the level of expertise required to teach a variety of dance genres with the skill and professionalism that can only be gained from real world experiences. They know when to push her so that she’ll reach her potential and when to ease off a bit to let her catch up. They understand each student is different and each is motivated by a variety of factors and ensure those factors are considered during each session. The atmosphere is one of encouragement, not belittlement. The costumes and song choices are always age-appropriate, for which we are extremely thankful. Our daughter has learned to compete in a sportsmanlike manner, which means she is a gracious winner and though disappointed when she doesn’t earn a trophy, she is excited for her teammates who do and congratulates them.
Over the years, not only have we gotten to see our own daughter grow and develop, but we’ve also had the great privilege of getting to know the older students, which allows us to see how Studio J has impacted their lives and glimpse how it will affect Emma’s life in the coming years. When we look at the older kids, we have no doubt our daughter is in good hands. This studio represents everything we wanted from a dance shop for our daughter and so much more. We are honored to be part of a dance community overflowing with teachers and moms and dads who are kind to one another. Thank you, Studio J, for the great years we’ve had and the great years to come!” – Kristy Dobbins
Studio J is located at 129 East Taft Avenue. Check out more information on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/studiojdc. You can reach them by emailing email@example.com or calling 336.629.3963. Summer camps are enrolling now so call and give your child a chance to learn to love dance!