They still have dreams of this space, the women said after class. The steep, creaking staircase. The worn hardwood floors. Music spilling out from the old painted windows to the bustling Grand Avenue below. This is where — at the Andahazy Dance Studio — they first felt the thrill of dance.
It is where — as the St. Paul Ballet — they’ve returned as retirees to relive memories and dance once more.
But this small second-floor studio above a hardware store will soon go dark. St. Paul Ballet’s Grand Avenue studio, which for nearly 50 years was under the Andahazy name, is closing. The building’s owners have decided to retire and do something else with the property.
“It’s devastating to me,” said Maj-lis Jalkio, who first took classes here in the early 1960s and returned after teaching ballet in Richmond, Va., and Boston. “I came back because I loved this place. It’s difficult. There are a lot of memories here for me.”
Said Leah Abdella, who had started taking classes here in 1963 as a 7-year-old and had restarted classes just a few weeks ago: “It’s been like stepping back in time.”
Time, unfortunately, has a way of passing.
The Andahazy studio at 1680 Grand Av. was opened in 1949 by Lorand and Anna Andahazy, former stars of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, who settled in the Twin Cities shortly after World War II. Their Andahazy Ballet Company performed classics and new choreography here and abroad for decades, and the studio hosted some of the world’s greatest ballet companies, including the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Ballet of England and the American Ballet Theatre.
Marius Andahazy’s earliest memories are as a little boy, sitting on the piano. His parents taught him to dance, to perform and, eventually, to become a dance teacher himself.
He ran the school after the death of his parents — his mother in 1983, his father in 1986 — and over the decades, the Andahazy studio taught thousands of students, he said.
But, despite his passion for teaching, Marius Andahazy could no longer pay the bills and, in 1996, he “turned over the keys” to the building’s owners. Andahazy still teaches at Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, but on Saturday morning, he will teach his final class in the Grand Avenue studio.
‘A lovely old space’
The St. Anthony School of Dance assumed Andahazy’s lease and, in 2002, became the St. Paul City Ballet — then the St. Paul Ballet, said Lori Gleason, executive director. Gleason first walked up those steep stairs in 1978 as a 20-year-old, taking her first classes from the Andahazys. The St. Paul Ballet has, she believes, continued their legacy.
“I think we’re carrying on the passion that they gave us,” Gleason said.
In 2013, the St. Paul Ballet expanded to a second studio about 2 miles to the north on Fairview Avenue. St. Paul Ballet now has 100 students in its pre-professional program and about 300 dancers in its recreational dance programs, Gleason said. The professional dance company has 10 dancers.
When the ballet recently began thinking about a strategic plan, Gleason said officials decided to approach the Grand Avenue building’s owners. That’s when they learned that the owners, now retired, intended to sell. So the decision was made to consolidate the St. Paul Ballet in a single location — the larger, newer Fairview space — and close the old studio.
“It’s a lovely old space. But, as you can see, it’s still 1947 in here,” she said, pointing to the faded pink walls and the ancient, nonaccessible stairs. “It’s just its time.”
On Aug. 27, a morning of toasts and farewells will culminate in a parade from the old studio to the new, followed by an open house. Gleason said the plan is to take the old doors, which are covered with photographs and autographs of the many dancers who have performed and visited.
For Mary Olson, who has danced here for more than 20 years, it will be a bittersweet day.
“I just think about the hundreds and hundreds of students who came through here, who you bump into nearly every week somewhere,” she said. “This place is so full of history. You feel it trapped in the woodwork.”