Dancin' machine
Armstrong School of Dance owner Karen Armstrong Gorsky takes a moment to pose for a photo while a class continues at her studio. (Photo by Rachel Philipson)

This summer, the Armstrong School of Dance is celebrating 15 years of operation as one of the most successful dance studios in the area. Owner and teacher Karen Armstrong Gorsky and her mother Anne Armstrong started up the business together in 1994 and have watched in blossom ever since.

ASD opened with 80 students (it quickly evolved to 100), and now the school boasts three times that number - about 300 students.

"It was just my dream for my whole life," Gorsky said. "We took a chance and did it."

The school teaches ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, and lyrical dance - a form of contemporary-style dance in which the choreography corresponds to the lyrics in the song as opposed to the rhythm alone. A native Ithacan, Gorsky grew up learning dance at the Ithaca Academy, the only studio in the area at the time. She graduated up to the Boston Conservatory at age 18, and then studied at two professional dance studios: Genett Neil in Boston and Steps on Broadway in New York City.

ASD is a nationally accredited studio, known around the country for its talent in tap dance.

"When our dance team wins awards it has always been in tap," Gorsky said. "It has always been easy for me, just one of those things I was gifted in.".

The team is a year-round troupe comprised of 16 high school-aged girls from all over the county. Directed by Gorsky, the ASD dance team has participated in many regional and national level competitions and has brought home a multitude of first, second and third place awards, as well as entertainment and choreography awards.

"I really push my teachers and myself to do continuing education dance classes and conferences around the nation," Gorsky said. "We're continually doing that. Dance education to me is really an education for life because if you're committed in dance, it really carries you and you can commit to other things."

For her students, these commitments are academics and homework.

"That's where time management comes in," Gorsky said. "The team is there every day but they have a lot of homework to do. I stress academics first and then dance, and they're all able to be outstanding students and graduate and go to college. I try to express to kids that what they learn at ASD they'll carry with them through the rest of their lives."

Once high school is over, however, the relationship never ends.

"They always keep in touch, come back and visit," Gorsky said. "We've always created great bonds. Typically over Christmas I get many that show up at my house. We're very close, and the ones that stick with me the older they get, they just become part of the studio."

The ASD dance team travels and performs in guest appearances, not to mention fully established events.

"The Finger Lakes Tap Festival invited us to perform with them three years in a row at the State Theater downtown, and we've performed for Relay For Life with lyrical dance," Gorsky said.

Located on Catherwood Road, the studio attracts students from seven different school districts spread across Tompkins County. ASD offers classes throughout the year at varying levels, from beginner to advanced, and hosts dance camps all summer long for children ranging in age from three years old to 18.

Gorsky channeled her talents into a benefit show in December 2007 to support research for cystic fibrosis. The Christmas Benefit for Cystic Fibrosis raised $6,000 and featured the teacher and some of her students.

"It runs in my family, so that was something that was pretty important," she said.

Gorsky was the first non-academic teacher to receive Cayuga Radio Group's Apple for the Teacher award in 2008 - the same year she had four of her students in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In 2004, Gorsky also won the New York State Business Woman of the Year award from President George W. Bush.

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