From its humble beginnings and through high growth and recessionary roadblocks, Judy’s Dance Academy has stayed the course as one of the Greater Brandon area’s best-loved small businesses, set now to begin its 24th year of operation.
Founder and namesake Judy Comiskey remembers well what it was like when she and her builder husband, Charlie, opened their doors at 1709 E. State Road 60 in Valrico, between North Valrico and North Miller roads.
“This was considered very far east back then,” said Comiskey, at the studio this month, where a sign hangs outside designating her business as a gold winner in the Best of Brandon recognition program, known also as the Brandon News Readers’ Poll. “This was very far out there and I was thinking people wouldn’t want to come this far for dance classes.”
As fate would have it, though, “it’s been a great location and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Comiskey added. “Turns out we’re in the center of Brandon, with a Valrico mailing address.”
There, averaging 250 to 300 students a year, Comiskey shares her lifelong love of dance and the philosophy that guides her teaching and that of her instructors, who specialize in ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, lyrical (or contemporary) dance, modern dance, hip-hop dance, clogging and acrobatics.
“To be competitive now in almost any type of dance you have to have acrobatics,” Comiskey said. “Five to 10 years ago they wouldn’t allow it. But today, a well-rounded dancer needs acrobatics, or at least to know how to do an aerial.”
As for the differences between clogging and tap, Comiskey explains. “They share a lot of the same steps, but clogging is done on the whole foot, where tap is more on the ball of the foot. Clogs have a double tap. The sound in clogging comes from metal hitting metal.”
Competition is a given in the world of dance, but Judy’s Dance Academy has long been recognized as the studio to go to if you want to have fun. The two, though, are not mutually exclusive, as Comiskey sees it.
“I don’t apologize for dance being fun,” she said. “Our studio dancers have been able to raise their technique exponentially and still have fun.”
Comiskey’s philosophy is expressed as well in the name of her studio’s dance team — JAM — an acronym for “Judy’s Art in Motion.”
“Dance is art, lest we forget,” Comiskey said. “Yes, we have technique and tricks you can judge, such as how many turns you perform and how high you jump. But there’s art involved and sometimes it’s like grading a painting.”
Comiskey has been dancing her entire life and teaching for 30 years, in Florida and Chicago. Upon moving to Valrico, she opened a studio by way of teaching at a half-dozen preschools. “As the students got older, they signed up at dance studios,” she said.
Comiskey worked at one such studio — Imagination Station in Plant City — until its owner passed away. Then, with her family’s support, including an uncle in St. Louis, Comiskey opened her own studio, close to home in Valrico.
Now Comiskey is busy signing up students for another year of dance. Registration is ongoing at the studio, for students ages 2 through adult. For information, visit online at judysdanceacademy.com or call (813) 684-9777.