The Love of Dance – Tawn Campolieti and Tami Zerrillo

By: Abbey Adams
Photo: Luciano

Located in the Center of Liverpool on Tulip Street you will find Tawn Marie’s Dance Center. Owner, Tawn Marie Campolieti, grew up learning everything she could about dance. Which eventually led her back home to Liverpool to open her own center in 1996. Her sister, Tami is also a professional dancer, but took a slightly more adventurous path touring with Sesame Street Live; Dragon Tales Live, and more. Tami joined the Dance Center staff in 2004 to be back home with her sister, teaching dance. Tawn says, “As kids, we grew up always dancing. I grew up in the 70s, and dance wasn’t what it is now.

There were a couple of dance studios in town, and it wasn’t long before my mom realized, and I think the family realized, oh; they’re pretty good at this.” Both sisters relied on their family for transportation and support among other things. She says, “I used to get out of school early. My mom would pick me up. She would drive me to Binghamton, and she would just have to hang out there all day and night while I was dancing and then drive me home.

They were always driving us somewhere, and I mean at the level we were at; you don’t dance once a week. You dance five days a week.” The family even sacrificed family vacations so the kids could compete and keep up with all their dance classes.

By the age of 12, Tawn started taking dance more seriously. Her mom was driving her over an hour away to go to dance classes every week. “As I was starting to get into high school, I really wanted to be a dance teacher…I was teaching dance for other people all throughout college, and then I opened up the studio in 1996.”

The Liverpool native explained how important it was for her to stay in her hometown. “I was always really close with my family and just close with the things that I’m comfortable with. At this point, I am proud that I’m in my community. A lot of my students now have families, and their daughters are starting to come here, which is crazy, but they do” she continues to talk about the lasting connections she’s made through this business venture, “I even have teachers from high school and elementary school that their granddaughters take dance here, Friends whom I graduated with, grand kids, and kids coming here. It is nice how it does come around.” Being active in the community is very close to Tawn’s heart because of the relationships she’s maintained with so many wonderful families and kids. Tawn Marie’s Dance Center can be found all over the community helping out at events, participating in competitions, and more. “It’s important to entertain the community around you so that they can always appreciate the arts and dance. If those kinds of things aren’t out there for free, and you’re not taking part in your community, they don’t realize how talented and hard-working your kids are.” Their charity work includes raising money for Paige’s Butterfly, Muscular Dystrophy, Humane Society, SPCA (both women are very passionate about animals – especially cats – and showed me all the cats they take care of behind the studio), Helping Hounds, Francis House, and Hope for Heather (where they’ve raised over $50,000) which is a scholarship named after a dance student who passed away.

Tawn and Tami both understand their jobs are so much more than just dancing or just teaching. These two are molding young minds and showing them etiquette, responsibility, patience, and much more. Both sisters are professional in a way that makes you feel immediate respect to them and their craft. They talk with their heads and teach with their hearts. Dance and discipline go hand in hand. Tawn says, “Nowadays kids do get a bad rap, and the kids in this building are like the hardest working kids ever. They usually excel in school, and they excel in everything they do. I see a totally different side to kids, where this has kind of given them something to be dedicated to, something to be committed to. They understand the value of hard work and discipline.”
Growing up, these two didn’t have many dancers to look up to. They mostly just felt like dance is what they were meant to do. Tami mentioned they admired old dancers like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly but overall were inspired by their dance teachers, who taught them at a young age. Tami says, “I was just enough younger than her (Tawn) that I would watch her, especially performing and talent wise, that I would look to her. I think our teacher was a great role model. It’s so different than nowadays because we didn’t have the whole social media aspect.” Tami is right. With so much reality television and social media becoming more and more popular in a business sense, it’s hard to pick apart what’s real and what’s fake in the media. Shows like Dance Moms, America’s Got Talent, and So You Think You Can Dance, portray dance in a very different and competitive light. Although competitions are important, it is not the main focus at Tawn’s Dance Center.

While walking into the building, you are immediately greeted by many shiny things. Trophies, plaques, and pictures line the walls almost top to bottom. It’s impressive and heartwarming all at once. There are girls of all ages, smiling in every picture, proud, and accomplished. I can only imagine how Tawn feels every morning, walking into a place like this knowing all the good you’ve done. Her sister is by her side teaching, and her mom also works at the Dance Center cleaning up and making sure every room looks perfect. Having come from different professional dance experiences, Tawn and Tami both bring something extra to the table. Tawn says, “We both have our kind of specialties and our special niches. The differences we have makes the kids more well-rounded, and they can benefit from that. We’re definitely going towards the same goal, but we can offer kind of a little variety as far as style and training goes, things like that.” Both smile at me and Tami finishes by saying, “I think it just makes us stronger here.”

Tami enjoyed her time away from home, traveling and making a name for herself in the dance world. She told me about her impressive dance journey and her decision to return home. “At the end of the nine years, I felt like I was watching family get older, and obviously we were always keeping in touch. I was seeing how the studio was growing and I decided it was time to kind of get off the road and come back here.” Tami continued to take some independent jobs and even directed couple theme park shows in Australia and the Caribbean. She talks about that outside experience saying, “It was different working with adults as I was on tour and then coming here with kids. My love of dance started from teachers who were passionate about what they did and what they cared about. It’s nice to come back around and teach other kids what my whole life has been about in various ways, but realizing the value of it…you learn a lot about your community, discipline, hard work, about so many things. It helps with time management, so it’s nice to be able to pass that on.”

Tawn Marie’s Dance Center is comprised of eight teachers all teaching various dance styles. All show how passionate they are about dance, just like Tawn and Tami prove every day. With the staff being all-female, it was important to Tawn to show little girls the women they can also become. She says, “We teach boys and girls here, but predominantly girls, so I’ve always thought it’s really important to be that strong female role model for girls…Especially in this world there’s ups, there’s downs. People get injured, they have bad days; they have bad years where it’s just not their year, or they’re unlucky, whatever it is. It’s perseverance, and it’s being strong and being smart about the business.”

The Center also offers a preschool program that is very important for young kids just starting to learn dance. They are taught by the same teachers who teach the competitive and advanced kids. “They get the benefit of that same training that the older kids get. We understand that you start here, and then you have to build each year, and then you get to here” said Tawn. Most of the kids they teach end up staying until 18, or until they graduate. Some go on to participate in dance in college. Some don’t, but all are always welcome back to the studio. They also have fun adult classes that some of the students’ parents attend. Her studio specializes in tap which is their biggest program (they have some of the best tappers around). Their ballet program is top notch with a knowledgeable instructor who built a fantastic program. Contemporary and jazz is offered, as well as acrobatics. “We really do specialize in a lot of areas, so we have a lot of versatility here, where some studios won’t even offer to tap, or they won’t offer tumbling or whatever, and so it’s nice that we are able to offer everything,” says Tawn.

Tawn’s students also participate in three to four competitions a year. This includes a national competition that they go to every year. The dancers have won several big national awards. They also do a lot of conventions, master classes, and other things of that nature. “We like to invest in education as well as competitions because they both have their benefits and they both really do build strong dancers,” said Tawn. Back in 2013, Tawn’s team competed against Dance Moms’ Abby Lee Miller’s dancers and actually beat them coming in first (which wasn’t shown on the show). However, Tawn doesn’t get too hung up on awards. She loves winning and having pride in her students, but she’s always on to the next thing. “Obviously, the world of dance is subjective; it’s opinion beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. Everybody could be trained beautifully, but you could always improve on that. The sign of success is that you always just want to keep moving forward” she says.

Looking back to her younger days, Tawn can confidently say she is living out her dream. Her advice to other independent women in the industry is to think clearly. “When you sign a mortgage for something like this, and you’re buying this giant building it’s scary, but I do think sometimes you do have to face challenges head on. You have to learn from your mistakes. But like I said, the way I do things is from the heart. Every single thing I do, I really make sure that it’s for the best for me or for someone. I just believe that if you do things from the heart, and you do things the right way; everything will come around, and it will come back to you.”

Tawn Marie’s offers quality dance classes for all age groups in various styles of dancing To learn more about Tawn and her Dance Center, visit their website here: http://www.tawnmaries.com/