The Mildred Scilla School of Dance hasn’t lost a step in half a century.
The Flushing studio on 164th Street will turn 50 years old this September and it continues to be a staple in the neighborhood, which has changed greatly during the last half-century.
The school currently has nearly 200 students, and Councilman Paul Vallone recently presented the studio with a citation honoring the upcoming anniversary.
“We represent quality, professionalism, nurturing and caring, and it’s been received that way from the community,” said owner Gary Gendell. “We still enjoy what we are doing. It’s not a business. It’s a way for us to give back to the community based on our backgrounds.”
Mildred Scilla, a member of The Rockettes in the 1940s and 1950s, opened the studio in her Flushing basement in 1964 to teach dance to children in the neighborhood. Her own children grew up learning to dance in the studio as well.
Photo courtesy Sandy Gendell
“We knew everybody in the neighborhood. All the neighborhood kids came to our house,” said Sandy Gendell, Scilla’s daughter. “There was always a lot going on. It was a lot of fun for us.”
Scilla moved the studio to its current location in 1974 after the studio gained popularity. When she died in 1998, Sandy took control of the dance school with Gary. They believe the studio’s tradition and their individual performance experience has helped it thrive.
Sandy followed in her mother’s footsteps and joined The Rockettes in 1970. She performed in the famous shows in Radio City Music Hall until 1978. Gary, meanwhile, acted on Broadway in the original productions of Annie and Chicago, and he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show as a dancer in the early ‘70s.
The pair said embracing the diversity that has come to Flushing through the 50 years has also played a major role and helped them grow with the neighborhood.
“As the neighborhood changes you have to change with it,” Sandy said. “We’re probably the last original people on this block.”