The show must go on.
The phrase is ubiquitous in virtually every staged production, and it’s one that the founders of Farnsworth Dance Academy have adopted as their school’s slogan. What’s more, it seems to hold a particular symbolism in their lives.
Farnsworth Dance Academy opened in 2017 and is owned and operated by mother-daughter duo, Carla Farnsworth and Juliet Farnsworth-Perry. The Farnsworth women are part of three generations of performers, starting with Elizabeth “Honey” Farnsworth – Carla’s mother, who just celebrated her 93rd birthday – and her two sisters, Donna and Eleanor. Honey, Bunny, and Sunny, as they were affectionately nicknamed, performed in various dance forms professionally for 10 years all over the Midwest before each opening dance schools of their own in the 1950s, one of which is still operational as the Cole Academy.
A family affair
Honey’s school was the original Farnsworth Dance Academy. It’s where Carla recalls spending much of her youth – and where she realized what a chore running a dance studio can be. Casting out any desire to own a studio of her own, she instead pursued her performance career. A move to New York brought her success when she was quickly picked up as a dancer for Bob Fosse. From then, she never went longer than three weeks without a gig – quite a feat for any kind of performer in NYC. Her resume includes five Broadway shows, appearing as an original cast member of shows like “Chicago” and “A Chorus Line,” as well as many national tours. At age 36, she decided it was time to hang up her dancing shoes and move to Los Angeles, where she met Juliet’s father.
Carla and Andy’s work moved them to various locations until they eventually settled in Benicia, where they raised Juliet. “I never wanted to push her to dance,” says Carla, and she didn’t have to. Juliet joined Stage One Dance Center when she was six and showed an early love of, not just dance, but the community and friendships that the studio gave her. When the owner learned about Carla’s background, she asked her to join the studio as a teacher. As Juliet grew as a dancer, she also began teaching and even headed her own competition team as a teen, coming into her own as a choreographer. However, Juliet’s primary passion was performing. She danced and toured with the Tremaine performance program for five years, attended a performing arts college in Los Angeles with some of the same girls she grew up dancing with, and performed at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Plagued by a chronic knee injury, she realized dancing professionally was no longer in the cards for her, and so she returned home to teach alongside Carla, who at this point was teaching multiple classes nearly every day.
A community jeopardized
In 2017, Juliet had decided to leave Benicia and Stage One. She was to move back to Los Angeles to pursue acting, and Carla was to limit her teaching schedule from 20 classes per week to 8, in favor of some much-deserved downtime. At least, that was the plan until they received news that Stage One Dance Center was to shutter. The Farnsworth women were struck by the fact that the closure of this institution, which had become a place of community for so many families, would leave many dancers without a home. It would break up the bonds that students had made with each other as they would be forced to find a new studio or possibly quit dance altogether.
So, Carla and Juliet stepped up.
They opened Farnsworth Dance Academy, the namesake of Honey’s school, and took in all of Stage One’s kids who wished to continue. They started out in Stage One’s old location, but soon found that location no longer available. For five months, the school existed out of four different locations until its current home in Glen Cove was secured. A testament to the strength of their community, students and teachers alike stuck by the Farnsworths’ side during this tumultuous time. Despite Carla’s early misgivings about owning a dance studio, both she and Juliet describe their new charge as a labor of love.
Farnsworth Dance Academy offers a variety of dance classes, including ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, conditioning, and even choreography classes. Students can audition to join competitive teams, which are designated by age and ability and have won many awards in competitions around the Bay Area. Farnsworth Dance Academy has also appeared at various dance conventions and has been known to bring in guest choreographers and teachers to give their students well-rounded training. The Farnsworths pride themselves on providing the best dance education possible to their students, and they also work hard to instill in them an appreciation for the history of their artform. “Dance training is life training,” says Juliet, “It teaches you discipline, teamwork, respect, and so many other life skills. We have students come in who we know might just stay for one semester, students who want to have a career in dance, and some who don’t. But, we know that, no matter what they go on to do, our graduates are going to be alright.”
Amid the reality of COVID-19,
Farnsworth Dance Academy has closed their studio and is now offering classes online. They are proceeding as normal, working on putting dances together for their end of year show, though the performance may be moved to late summer or postponed further depending on COVID-related developments. At a time like this, community is paramount, and thankfully the Farnsworths have a formidable one. As they help provide some normalcy to their families, it seems fitting to revisit their school motto: the show must go on. And if dance training is life training, then life must go on. Their message is implicit but impactful: Life is unpredictable. We must adapt, come what may, and do so with grace. We must take care of each other and carry on together.
Farnsworth Dance Academy is located at 155 Glen Cove Marina Road, Suite 200B, Vallejo, CA. For timely updates on their class offerings, performance company auditions, etc. please follow @farnsworthdanceacademy on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.