ALLIANCE — "It’s been a good run. I never thought it would take off like it did," said Kathy Lybarger, owner of 7th Street Dance Studio. She opened the dance studio June 1, 1983, and besides passing out flyers, the studio was up and running pretty much just from word of mouth as news spread that a dance studio was starting in town.
"I think we only had about 50 kids in that first recital but then the next year it just exploded!" exclaimed Lybarger.
"When we first moved here I was working at a travel agent downtown. I went to work one day and the guy said that they were closing. I went and picked up Sarah (her daughter) from the daycare and told them what had happened and that I couldn’t afford to pay them until I got paid. They asked if I was looking for a job and I said yes! So I kicked off my high heels right then and went to work that day. I guess that happened for a reason because they taught me so much about working with children."
Over the nearly 35 years that 7th Street Dance Studio has been open more than 2,000 different students have been taught in that building. The building itself is a big part of Alliance’s history as it was pulled to Alliance from Antioch by horses in the 1930s. For years the building served as a grocery store and then sat empty before the Lybargers bought it.
"Larry (her husband) thought it was going to be a little hobby for me, just pacifying my little need to do something besides daycare," said Lybarger.
"I was just having fun, I had no intention of it being huge! It’s been hard for people to think sometimes that this has been a job. I've always heard that I just dance, well that dancing put my kids through college too! It's been a very nice way to do something I love and still make a very good living out of it," she explained.
Recently she sent letters home with the dance students letting them and their parents know that she would be stepping away from the business.
She stated, "Five years ago I thought I would be here until the day I died but I had an epiphany and it was time. Things happen for a reason, who knows why ... The last three years have been pretty rough. By the end of each of those years I've felt like I had given it everything I had but it needed more. The dance world is always changing, always, I feel like it needs fresh new ideas and it’s time for me to step aside. And I want to spend more time with my grandkids."
Lybarger was pretty concerned about the future of dance in Alliance and the studio itself.
Twenty-eight-year instructor Lori Davis stated, "I've been telling her for three years that when she's done I'm done but I think it just kind of hit me this summer and I just decided that I'm not done. This community is not done, it needs it! And I have more to give."
Davis, who was also the very first dance student to sign up for lessons when the business opened, will be taking over the studio after this session wraps up. The session ends with the recital that will take place on April 28 and the keys will officially be handed over as of May 1.
"It’s great that she’s decided to keep it going! I didn’t want to just shut the doors but I knew it was time. She had told me for years that when I was done, she was done but she decided that maybe she wasn’t ready to be done," noted Lybarger.
"I actually have a part time job waiting for me in Grand Junction at a studio. I can go in and teach the babies and then go home and not even worry about it. I'm looking forward to doing what she (Lori) has done all of these years, just come in and teach and go home. Not that I haven’t loved it, I'm going to miss this place terribly.”
"Lots of changes in my life, riding this roller coaster out as best I can but some of it has been real hard. Coming to terms with the transition… I've got to make some changes so that I can stay healthy and keep doing all the things that I want to do. Stress is hard on a person. Plus Larry and I got married having kids so it's time for us to have some fun now," she explained.
She stated that there have been some really good years and there have been some years that numbers were down, but 328 kids in 1992 still holds the record for the best year.
"I'm very thankful for all of the support I’ve had over the years. I was very lucky that people believed in me, and Lori, and they brought their kids and their grandkids. So many favorite moments. I think having the second generations coming in, having their mommies bring them back because they want them to dance here, I think that's one of the best feelings. That’s very rewarding," Lybarger said as she fought back the tears.
"Or getting a letter from someone just saying that they loved it. And I’ve saved every one of those letters, cards, pictures, and drawings that I've ever gotten, ever!" adding with a laugh, "I'm not a hoarder by any means but I am a pack rat!"
Davis stated, "I want to keep our major philosophy the same, what Kathy has instilled. Give kids a place to just feel like they are home and not having to compete with everyone and just shine. Even if they get a little tiny thing out of it that's huge for us. Life doesn’t have to be a competition every day and in sports they're always competing with for a spot, here they can go on if they want to, Kathy has had lots of students go on do this professionally, but they can also just do it for fun and for health."
At five, Davis began taking dance lessons from Miss Nancy in Lincoln after falling in love with ballet after seeing a life performance of the Nutcracker. When she was in second grade they moved to Hyannis after her mom accepted a teaching position there. She was forced to take a break from dance until fourth grade when a studio opened up in Ogallala where she danced with Miss Kelly. She and her mom made the trip from Hyannis to Ogallala once a week for dance lessons until the 7th Street Dance Studio opened when Davis was 12.
“From the first class Miss Kathy taught me, I knew she and I would become wonderful friends and the studio became my home away from home,” stated Davis.
She lives on a ranch near Bingham with her husband Scott and two of their three children. The third is attending college at the University of Nebraska.
"Scott has always been very supportive of her dance career. They began dating when she was 15 when he began driving her to Alliance on Saturdays so that she could go to her classes. He would wait in the vehicle outside until she was done," noted Lybarger.
After going to college for teaching Davis returned home to the ranch and it was soon clear that she needed to do something outside of ranch work when she began naming all of the calves. She called up the studio and has been instructing there since.
"She’s a rancher dancer!" exclaimed Lybarger.
Davis added, "From fencing to dancing. I'm ready to hang up the fencing gloves and do this full time."
"We're going to take the summer to get it ready and do it right then we will open back up in the fall," she noted.
Lybarger added, "This building needs some tender love and care. She has lots of great new ideas and exciting changes coming. I can’t wait to see the changes. Just fresh paint and carpet is going to make a world of difference.
"She's going to try to incorporate some new classes too which will be exciting when she gets those all put together."
Davis stated, "I'd like to target some of those 20-30 somethings for some fitness type classes and not necessarily recital routines ... We teach tap, jazz, ballet, point, musical theater ... Teaching kids from the time they are potty trained on up. We take everyone and they can just be themselves here. I love that you can make a kid smile by just giving them a little bit of positive feedback."
Lybarger and Davis have been "partners in crime" as Davis states it. "Since day one we have just clicked."
"She came into my life at a wonderful time and thank God she did," stated Lybarger.
"She needs to make this place her own and do things her own way. I'm proud of her and excited and just thrilled that she's going to keep it going," added Lybarger.
"Everybody just keeps telling me that I've got big shoes to fill," said Davis.
"No, I don’t want you to fill them I want you to make your own!" said Lybarger with a smile.
Davis exclaimed, "I’m excited to continue our dance community and keep sharing the love of dance and fitness with this fantastic town and the surrounding communities."