McCardle dance studio in the Falls hits a milestone

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Don McCardle (left) his wife Carolee McCardle, their daughter Colleen Contillo and her daughter Mya Contillo, 14, in the McCardles Dance Studio. The family is celebrating the studio's 50th anniversary with a dance revue at Cuyahoga Falls High School. (Karen/Akron Beacon Journal)

When Don and Carolee McCardle take the stage June 8 at Cuyahoga Falls High School, they’ll be celebrating 50 years of instilling a love of dance in young people.

These husband-wife hoofers haven’t danced together for 14 years — since they handed the reins of McCardle’s Dance Studio over to their daughter, Colleen Contillo. That was supposed to represent the year of Don McCardle’s retirement, but you can’t keep a dance man from dancing.

Now, the couple will perform for the studio’s huge 50th anniversary dance revue, a marathon that will feature 80 dance numbers and is expected to run for more than four hours. All 150 students from age preschool through adult will perform, and there will be specialty numbers by alumni who will return to dance solos or duets with family members.

The anniversary extravaganza also will feature a slide show showing highlights from dance routines from 50 years of the studio’s dance revues, as each number is re-created live on stage — some with scenery.

The couple started their studio in 1962 in the basement of their Cuyahoga Falls home but moved by 1963 to their facility on Hudson Drive, where the dance center has become an institution.

“She kind of kicked me out when kids started traipsing through the kitchen,” Don said of Carolee.

“If you’re going to have a dance studio, you’ve got to have it in a building,” Carolee recalled saying to her husband.

According to Contillo, Don and Carolee’s return to the dance floor is creating quite a buzz in the studio.

“The students and parents and everyone are excited,” Contillo said.

“I’m whipping her into shape,” Don, 79, joked of his wife, also 79.

They will perform the jazz/ballroom number Let’s Dance by Barry Manilow.

It was love at first sight when Don saw Carolee dancing in a trio at the Hollywood Night Club on North Main Street in Akron in 1953. The 19-year-old had come to see his buddy Hugh Johnson perform. But when he saw the beautiful Carolee, time stood still.

“The minute I saw her I knew I loved her and that was it. I never dated another girl,” Don said.

They were apart from 1956 to 1958, when he was drafted into the Army and served in Germany. During his time there, he choreographed shows for the USO Europe and did movies, TV work and even choreographed ice shows for the Germans. He also bunked with Gary Crosby, son of Bing Crosby, who played in the band while Don danced off the back of an Army truck all over Germany.

Don and Carolee were wed in 1958 and will celebrate their 55th anniversary in September.

Don, a native of Vestaburg, Pa., graduated from East High School in 1951. Carolee, a Stow native, graduated from Stow High School in 1952. He studied dance with the famed Jean Shepard in Akron, she with Charlie Boyd in the Falls.

In Don and Carolee’s early dancing days, they were regulars in the Akron nightclub circuit and on Cleveland TV shows such as The Gene Carroll Show and Landmark Jamboree. As a high schooler, Don made good money in those days dancing at the Mayflower with three other guys and four girls.

The McCardles raised Colleen and sons Jeff and Mark in the Falls as Don worked 30 years in administrative engineering and accounting at Goodyear while running the dance studio. Carolee served dinner promptly at 5 each night so Don could go teach by 5:30.

Carolee started teaching again on Saturdays after her boys got older. She gravitated toward the littlest dancers.

“They had three years of dance before they saw Don,” who was known to be tough, Carolee said.

“My kids say tough but fair,” said Georgia Hartswick, mother of teens Delenn and Jonah. “They love him.”

Along the way, Don taught 12 years as an adjunct professor of dance at the University of Akron, and Carolee served on the board of the Ohio Ballet. Don is currently a board member of the Ronald McDonald House, American Heart Association and International Institute and serves on the Children’s Hospital Holiday Tree Festival underwriting and auction committee.

They are members of Holy Family Catholic Church and the proud grandparents of five.

Daughter Colleen started taking tap and ballet from her mom when she was 2. She became a nonactive apprentice with the Ohio Ballet and also worked in New York, did summer stock and performed on cruise ships, where she met her husband, concert pianist Chris.

She and her husband lived one year in Miami before her dad asked them to come back home 17 years ago: Don was preparing to retire in about three years and wanted Colleen to get her foot back in the door so she’d be ready to take over his studio. Colleen had never doubted this would happen, and now her 14-year-old daughter, Mya, an avid dancer, wants to become the studio’s third-generation owner.

The first couple of years after Don’s retirement, the McCardles spent some time in Florida. But he got back into performing in 2006, when he spent a year as a star male dancer in the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies in Palm Springs, Calif., where he performed nine shows a week at age 72.

“I could have stayed till I couldn’t dance anymore,” Don said of the big gig. But the couple missed their daughter and grandchildren back in the Falls too much, so they returned after a year.

That’s when Don started teaching for Colleen, taking on 12 classes that include jazz, lyrical, tap, ballet and private lessons. He also judges dance contests for Ticket to Broadway, which keeps Don and Carolee traveling around the country on weekends.

Don’s popularity continues as a teacher: his reunion tap class for grownup former students has now blossomed into two classes.

Colleen stressed that all of the studio’s teachers are homegrown talent who have grown up in the tightknit studio. That’s true for Vanessa Facemire, who’s now working on her doctorate in counseling psychology but found herself living solo in Northeast Ohio as a graduate student after her sister moved to New York and her parents to Michigan.

“Without McCardle’s Dance Studio, I don’t know where I’d be now,” said Facemire, who called the studio a home away from home. “I can’t say enough about this place. It’s everything to me. Mr. and Mrs. McCardle were my long-lost parents.”

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.


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