Gifts that Give Back: Learning and Performing with MarLo Dance Studio

 In Arts & Community

Just in time for the holidays, MarLo Dance Studio has published a 2021 wall calendar. The calendar features colorful dance portraits staged in studio and scenic outdoor locations.

A dynamic learning environment brings students back to MarLo Dance Studio year after year.

Dance is a richly expressive art form. A subtle toe tap can say as much as a grand jeté. For MarLo students, the joy is in the journey from first position to a gravity-defying leap.

“I’m interested in how dance develops character and teamwork within the discipline,” said MarLo Director Maria Merriam.

Merriam co-founded the dance studio in Bandon with fellow dancer and educator Lois Henry. Together, the women hoped to share their enthusiasm for dance. The school opened in 1999 with 45 beginning ballet and tap dance students. As attendance grew, Merriam and Henry recruited more staff and added a second studio.

In 2019, MarLo enrolled 135 youth and adults in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and hip-hop classes, plus sessions in fitness and ballroom.

Merriam began her own dance studies as a youngster. Throughout her childhood and teen years in Bandon, she explored performance opportunities in school, church and community theater.

At Southwestern Oregon Community College, Merriam enrolled in music, education and business courses. Then she headed east. She worked as a nanny and sampled dance classes in New York, where she also met her husband Robert Merriam. The couple moved back to Bandon to start a family, and Merriam set up shop as a seamstress.

When she and Henry agreed to launch the dance studio, Merriam’s experience– in dance, music, theater, costuming and working with youth– all melded into a new business plan.

“It’s funny how those pieces all came together,” said Merriam. “I never had professional (dance) ambitions. I knew right away I wasn’t that competitive.”

She finds motivation in the breadth of learning and creativity that emerge as staff and students work together.

“I teach with humanity. It’s the child that’s important,” she said.

Each year, MarLo students earn hearty applause at the Sprague Community Theater. Annual spring shows are multi-genre dance productions based on literary classics such as “Pinocchio,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Peter Pan.” Semi-annual “Nutcracker” performances usher in the holiday season with a time-honored ballet.

“I just have a lot of fun putting on the shows,” said Merriam. “I enjoy, more and more, taking input from the more serious dancers. I love to collaborate with the staff. There’s a richness that comes from many minds coming together.”

Before they step on stage, Merriam tells young dancers, “We’re going to do the best we can, because this is our way of giving back to our families and community.”

It’s a gift the community appreciates. Shows routinely sell out. And, since production proceeds fund the studio’s scholarship program, it’s also a gift that keeps giving.

Creativity at Work

The studio’s 2019–20 season ended early when MarLo joined the ranks of businesses closed amid pandemic restrictions. Online Zoom classes were a good way to provide student enrichment but not a replacement for in-person rehearsal. The spring “Cinderella” production was postponed, then cancelled. The “Nutcracker” performance is tentatively rescheduled for 2021.

The studio opened for fall classes in September with reduced class sizes to meet coronavirus social distancing requirements. But public gathering limits mean full-scale dance productions are on hold. So, Merriam put her creative energy to work, exploring ways to connect with audiences and fundraise for dancer scholarships.

MarLo presented a movie and dance event at the Sprague Community Theater in October, and Merriam gave the experience two thumbs up.

Socially-distanced audiences enjoyed the animated film “Leap!” After the movie, a small ensemble of MarLo dancers shared a ballet sequence with choreography by dance instructor Faith Slater for the fairy scene in “Cinderella.”

“It was awesome,” said Slater. “It was the first time I’ve seen a piece I’ve choreographed performed on stage.”

dance portrait marlo

2021 MarLo Dance Calendar

Just in time for the holidays, MarLo Dance Studio has published a 2021 wall calendar. Instead of a show ticket, patrons can purchase a calendar featuring colorful dance portraits staged in studio and scenic locations throughout Coos County. Calendar art was contributed by photographers Annetta Adams and Eric Wyatt.

Calendars are $20 each, and additional scholarship donations are welcome. To learn more or request a calendar, visit the studio online at, or call Maria Merriam, 541-252-1394.

Full Circle

Many MarLo students continue dance training outside Bandon in summer intensives and college programs. Like an elegant pirouette, some dancers circle back to Bandon as guest performers or instructors.

Faith Slater is an alumna now teaching ballet and tap at the studio. After attending a summer session with Ballet Fantasique in Eugene, she was invited to join the company. Between 2017 and 2019, she spent a year in the conservatory program, then a year as an apprentice dancer.

Her professional performances with Ballet Fantastique included a production of “An American Christmas Carol” at the Sprague Community Theater featuring a guest appearance by MarLo students. Slater found herself back in her home theater mingling on and off stage with professional and student performers.

“It was my childhood stage, but it was different,” said Slater. “It was interesting to have those two worlds collide.”

In 2019, Slater completed the State Street Ballet professional trainee program at Santa Barbara City College in California. She returned home to rest an injured foot and considered shelving her leotard and pointe shoes. Instead, she accepted an invitation to teach at MarLo. Back in the MarLo classroom, she reflected on childhood daydreams about becoming a dance instructor. Now, she says that daydream is actually an adult ambition.

“I realized, I really do like this. It’s not just a little kid dream,” she said.

Despite the pandemic, there will be no long winter nap at MarLo. Following a short holiday break, students and staff will resume dance classes– sharing their commitment to learning and the arts.

dance portrait marlo

Arts Elevate Community

Arts Elevate Community is an ongoing series in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Sprague Community Theater.

Join our mailing list to learn more about the people and organizations bringing arts, culture, learning and fun to Bandon’s community theater.

2021 calendar images contributed by MarLo Dance Studio (from top) dancer Hallie Minkler photographed by Annetta Adams, dance instructor Faith Slater and dancer Rachelle Maxon photographed by Eric Wyatt.


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