Dance is the ultimate expression of emotion that radiates from a person’s inner core. Dancers who aspire to share the stage with company members of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), choreograph on Broadway or make their mark in the world of theater, look no further than Body Language Dance & Theatre Arts Studio in Massapequa.
“I have owned Body Language for 29 years,” said owner Wendy DeGaetano, who opened the studio on her own when she was only 23-years-old. “I have a background in dance and I went to the High School of Cultural Arts (now LIHSA), and then on to college for dance as well.”
Throughout her career, DeGaetano danced and choreographed professionally for off-Broadway shows and children’s television series. She started teaching at the age of 18 and is trained in all styles of dance; tap, jazz, and her favorite, ballet, all of which are offered at the studio.
“Body Language offers everything including musical theatre, ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, lyrical, hip hop and zumba classes. We even have special classes for actors and singers,” said DeGaetano. “We probably have over 300 students enrolled, which we audition for one of our biggest performances—The Nutcracker.”
After a trip to a local production of The Nutcracker, DeGaetano’s kids became mesmerized and obsessed with the ballet. They gave her the idea to put on a performance at Body Language.
“There are approximately 150 students in the performance, 44 of which are prime company dancers; they’re basically our elite group of dancers,” said DeGaetano of the girls who have auditioned to be in the studio company and competition team. “Ballet is the root of everything and we like to train our dancers to be able to go across all styles of dance, so even if they don’t want to be a professional dancer when they grow up, they could be,” she added of her elite group, who are just as trained in ballet and hip hop as they are in tap and lyrical.
Auditions for the Christmas ballet classic begin in June, with rehearsals starting in July and continuing through until the performance in mid-December. The dancers are a dedicated group, dancing up to three times a week and full rehearsal days from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
“The kids really look forward to it and they’re excited about it. From where it started to where it is now, it’s amazing,” said DeGaetano of the show now, in its 21st year, which began with a low budget and handmade costumes by her mother. “Now we have a huge 30-foot mother ginger skirt that all the little gingerbread go under. We rent the costumes from a company and refresh them every few years.”
While the company girls are the core serving as main characters, Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the mice, the younger kids have an important role as well.
Nine-year-old Kate Coll of East Lake Elementary School danced in her first Nutcracker at the age of three.
“I have now been in six performances, and this year I’m a boy in the party scene,” said Coll of the roles which also include gingerbread, candy canes, Chinese tea and angels. “Lyrical is my favorite because it’s not too jazz-y or ballet-y and it’s really fun because I can just be me and express myself. I don’t mind the long hours because hard work pays off.”
Justina Lozito, 13 of Jonas E. Salk Middle School in Levittown has performed in two Nutcrackers so far.
“I have been a flower, a lemon drop and a soldier, because I was two parts in one show,” she said. “It’s really fun to do during Christmas and my favorite dance is the flowers dance,” added Lozito, who like her fellow dancers, favors lyrical as the most fun style of dance.
Every dancer at Body Language works and trains hard for their passion, including 18-year-old Morgan Flanagan of Plainedge High School, who will star in her 16th Nutcracker performance as the Snow Queen.
“I started out as a gingerbread and now I’m the Snow Queen,” said Flanagan, who loves performing in The Nutcracker because she loves the feeling of Christmas and that everyone comes together to do what they love. “My favorite style of dance is ballet and I have been on pointe for five years. For me, it wouldn’t be a normal day without spending it at the studio.”
The starring role of Clara has been earned by 14-year-old Kerry McHugh, who attends St. Anthony’s High School.
“I’ve been dancing for ten years, and I played the Dewdrop Fairy last year but this year I’m really excited to play Clara,” said McHugh, who found out she won the role during rehearsals. “It was on stage and I got flowers when they announced it, I was so excited. I love ballet, but my favorite style of dance is lyrical because I like to use my face and show emotions,” she added.
For DeGaetano, the best part about watching her students grow is not only seeing them go on to become professional dancers and have careers in the performing arts, but seeing them come back with their owns kids and dance.
“Seeing my former students bringing their kids back and knowing that their memories are so cherished that they want to share with their owns kids the experience we offer here, is really special,” she said. “We’re very involved in the community. We do local performances, the St. Rose fair, PTA functions, and we just performed at the tree lighting last week,” continued DeGaetano, who also added that her girls are going to nationals again this year.
While Body Language is a fun studio, they have a reputation for being very professional. DeGaetano expects a lot from her dancers, as many go on to dance in college, receive scholarships to dance professionally and go on to ABT and the Joffrey Ballet School.
“You get a good, solid background in dance here, but we’re also a family business,” said DeGaetano. “It’s me, my mom, my sister and my daughters so there’s a warm, family feeling here.”
Body Language not only combines hard work, education and dedication with creativity and passion, but also fosters the spirit of those who epitomize what dance is all about, and could end up debuting their dreams on stage.
This year’s production of The Nutcracker will be held at Berner Middle School on Saturday, Dec. 13 at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door. Berner Middle School is located at 50 Carmen Mill Rd., Massapequa.