JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — An old saying in show business has it that “the show must go on,” and that has certainly been the mentality of Chambers Performing Arts.
For 40 years, the school has brought dance and performing arts classes to the North Fulton community. Now, although the studio is closed, Chambers students are continuing to take online classes and preparing for a virtual end-of-year show.
Susan Chambers founded the school in 1980, then under the name Chambers School of Theatre Dance. Her daughter, Paige Chambers Rutsche, trained at the school and went on to appear in the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, "Crazy For You,” at age 17. After a career that included the national tours of “42nd Street,” “A Chorus Line,” and “Cats,” Chambers Rutsche returned to Johns Creek to run the school with her mother.
The school offers the traditional dance classes — ballet, jazz, tap — and less conventional techniques — including musical theatre, hip hop and acro-dance. Students can also take vocal and acting lessons, preparing them to be true triple threats.
“We start with Tiny Dancer and Me at 18 months old,” Chambers Rutsche said. “They come in and are introduced to rhythm and music with their parents or caretakers … all the way up to adults, sometimes in their 60s or 70s coming to take a tap class.”
Chambers Performing Arts alumni have appeared in Broadway shows such as “The Producers” and “Anything Goes.” Some have joined the Radio City Rockettes and other top dance companies.
Although these are not the circumstances in which they imagined they would celebrate their 40th anniversary, Chambers Rutsche said she is incredibly proud they have made it to this point.
“I’m so proud of my family and my mom for keeping the vision going, and I hope we can keep it going through the next few months as we navigate through all this,” she said.
When COVID-19 first forced the school to stop in-person lessons, the faculty filmed and edited more than 85 classes for students to view on-demand. Now, they have transitioned to a life class model, offering hundreds of classes a week through Zoom.
“All of our teachers have done an amazing job,” Chambers Rutsche said. “What is blowing my mind is that we’ve had 99 percent attendance in all our classes. Our community has rallied to keep us open and keep us going.”
Rutsch said she has been impressed with all their students who continue to show up in uniform, whether that’s a leotard and bun for ballet, sweatpants for hip hop, metal-plated shoes for tap, or for some students, all three in one day.
“I’m just so proud of them,” she said. “To go through all this and still keep their commitments, keep their schedule, it’s incredible.”
The school has also offered free classes in yoga, ballet and hip hop that anyone can take through Instagram, at instagram.com/chambersperformingarts/.
“One of our hip teachers is from London, so when she taught the free Instagram live class, there were people from London logging in and taking the class,” Chambers Rutsche said. “One incredible thing about remote learning is truly anyone can do it from anywhere.”
That includes Chambers Rutsche reaching out to her New York contacts and inviting Broadway casting directors, choreographers and performers to teach exclusive master classes during this time.
Beyond lessons, the school has tried to maintain its sense of community by hosting virtual scavenger hunts and escape room parties.
“The students have sent me so many emails saying, this is my life raft,” Chambers Rutsche said. “This is my anchor that keeps me grounded. It is such a family because you’re there all the time.”
It is that tight-knit community that has kept the school going strong for 40 years, Chambers Rutsche said. She also credits the lasting vision of her mother and community support for the arts more broadly.
“There’s just that need for the arts in people,” she said. “It’s something that you can’t get from anything else. We’ve seen major corporations go out of business through the years, and we’re still here.”