December 2022
Written By: 
Paul Grimshaw
Photographs by: 
courtesy of Premier School of Dance; Paul Grimshaw & Apple Butter Photography

A Day in the Life of Catlin Gesford, Dance Instructor

It has been said that “dance is the hidden language of the soul.” For Premier School of Dance founder, owner, and instructor Catlin Gesford, dance is a means to end; it is her livelihood, but more importantly it brings joy to countless students, their parents and grandparents, and fulfills a lifelong love of the sometimes delicate, sometimes fiery, always expressive and deliberate artform.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Gesford and a group of her students on a busy day at Premier. I watched in awe as kids, some as young as six, practiced routines, preparing for competitions and the all-important recital next summer.

Gesford’s Premier School of Dance is in Carolina Forest, so many of her students are after-school participants from area schools and come at the end of their school day, though Gesford’s day starts much earlier.

10:25 a.m. - Catlin Gesford, owner and instructor at Premier School of Dance in Carolina Forest, stands before a tiny sample of trophies and awards earned by her students at regional and national dance competitions.

10:30 a.m.

Like all businesses, Gesford’s requires administrative tasks.

“I get here around 10 or 10:30 a.m. and check and answer emails, update social media accounts, and prepare for the upcoming classes. I work Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and most Saturdays,” she says. “I am not tied to the studio, but sometimes I wish I could clone myself so I could just be here all the time.”

Along with her husband, Matthew Moreland, a Myrtle Beach police officer, the couple manages their work-life balance raising two young children and often working long hours. Gesford regularly puts in 10-hour days (or more) and has several dance instructors besides herself, some of whom are older teens from area high schools who are students as well.

The couple (Moreland, 29, and Gesford, 30) first met in college in upstate New York, then moved together to Myrtle Beach, married, and started a family and their careers. A dance major earning a BFA at the College of Brockport in New York, Gesford and her then boyfriend Matthew visited Myrtle Beach on spring break and decided the Grand Strand was the place to be. It's a familiar story for many who move here.

But why a dance studio here?

“Myrtle Beach is a huge hub for dance competitions, and one of the largest in the nation,” says Gesford. “When we first moved down here, I started working for a couple of other dance studios, but within about six months I decided why not open my own studio and do things my way?”

Gesford opened her school in 2016 and has seen steady growth and accolades. At the last annual recital, held at the Beach Church, about 600 parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, and family friends attended to see her 120 students perform routines they’d poured their hearts and sore feet into during the previous months.

“It was amazing,” says Gesford,
recalling the event. “We filled the whole bottom and it’s a big auditorium. We have around 136 students now and have competitions coming up in the spring and another recital next summer.”

The next competition is in Myrtle Beach in late February. The next annual recital, which is open to the public, takes place June 17, 2023, at the Beach Church in Myrtle Beach (tickets are $20 at the door).

12:05 p.m.

Gesford picks up one of her student–teachers done early from the Academy of the Arts and Sciences and returns to the school as parents and young students will begin to trickle in until the school swells with activity around 2:30 p.m.

“I started dancing when I was 7 years old,” says Gesford, “then started competing, and I’ve never stopped.”

Her philosophy of teaching? “We like to add a personal factor,” she says, “be one-on-one with the students and their families.”

(Left) 03:05 p.m. - 10-year-old Kalli practices her tap dance routines; (Right) 04:00 p.m.- Gesford instructs a group preparing for competitions.

3:00 p.m.

A student arrives for a private lesson with Gesford, as the waiting area begins to fill.

Kalli, 10 years old, has been taking lessons since she was 4. Tall for her age and already looking like a professional dancer, her dance style of choice is traditional tap.

Gesford and her young charge regroup in the studio, a well-lit 20-by-45-foot room with mirrors and ballet barres.

“I want to be a tap dance teacher when I grow up,” says Kalli, as she stretches and warms up, going over segments from a routine she’s been working on for weeks. Gesford, the choreographer of the routine, prepares the music, a classic Dave Brubeck Quartet piece from 1959.

The Mathematics of Music and Dance

Dance is a beautiful and magical combination of mathematics, music, and art. Brubeck’s masterpiece, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” is in 9/8 time with a 4/4 swing. Listening is challenging (check out the 1959 video of composer Brubeck performing it with his quartet), but imagine tap dancing to this. Each new segment of the complex song is accompanied by another set of equally complex tap dance maneuvers, all of which must be memorized and executed properly to avoid train wrecks on stage.

I was nervous watching, but Kalli seems confident beyond her years. Each private lesson is 30 minutes long and this young dancer is in for three lessons each week.

“Kalli is rehearsing for competition in February, but will also do this number in the next recital,” explains Gesford, who has stopped to consider a minor change to Kalli’s choreography.

Gesford and her instructors teach tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, lyrical, contemporary, and more. The roster of available classes is almost, but not quite, full.

“I would take on more students, and adult students too, but I’m already here until 8:30 most nights. I just don’t have time,” says Gesford, though she added that, as more teachers become available, the school will continue to grow.

“We also teach tumbling as it relates to dance,” said Gesford. “Dance has become way more than just dancing; it now includes tricks, flips, acrobatics, flexibility, and all these things it didn't used to be.”

(Left) 03:50 p.m. - Two of Gesford’s youngest students, including one of the only boys at the school, rehearse “Barbie Girl.”

3:50 p.m.

Kalli has finished her private lesson and will now join 10 additional students in a group class as they rehearse a clever routine set to the the pop group Aqua’s smash 1997 hit, “Barbie Girl.”

Like most of the school’s students, these dancers are primarily from Carolina Forest, Socastee, Aynor, and Myrtle Beach.

Regional and national dance competitions motivate students and provide travel opportunities.

4:30 p.m.

As one group finishes, another takes over, repeating the process until around 8 p.m.

“I’m proud of all of our dancers’ wins,” says Gesford, “and of the studio’s wins; we won Best Dance Studio in 2021 and 2022. But it’s more than just the trophies, awards, and competitions.

“There are opportunities here along the Grand Strand for dancers,” she continues. “Say… if my senior girls graduate in June, they can go audition for the Carolina Opry or something. It’s all about the kids and providing the training and opportunities for them. There are probably 10 or 12 dance studios in the area, and I wish we all could share a more cooperative attitude, but, sadly, it’s not there to the degree I think it should be. I understand competition, but there’s room for everybody.”

All of these dance schools provide extracurricular activities, social interaction, a sense of accomplishment, confidence building, and travel opportunities.

“Next year we go to Ocean City, Maryland, for nationals,” says Gesford. “Everyone is really excited about that trip.”

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