A picture over three decades in the making....
In the late 80's only 24 months apart, two different journeys would get their start. Some 35 years later, they would finally cross paths. Everyone in the dance world knows the story of the great Gary Pate. In 1987, he took his first step towards excellence with the creation of Starpower National Talent. Since then, he has been one of the main forces behind forming the most respected competitive circuits in the world encompassing six individual competitions, multiple conventions, the World Dance Pageant and the World Dance Championships-The Star Dance Alliance.
Only 2 years later, Jennifer Vecchio began her story when she purchased an existing dance studio in her hometown of Cumberland, RI. She humbly began her business with a handful of dancers and has built her dream into the generational legacy that is Dance Theatre of Rhode Island. Some of the original families that stayed with her at the beginning are represented today as grand children. Her work ethic and drive has kept that dream a reality over decades of doing what she loves most.
Three years ago, her studio was at a cross roads in the competitive dance world. It was time to make a change, maybe one that was overdue, but it is always difficult to start over on a new circuit. You need to familiarize your self with new rules, categories, time lines, venues and locations. She has had to do it before and it is literally a whole new beginning. You have to make a name for yourself all over again, get a feel for the events, how they run, how they flow and what they are looking for from you and your team in order to climb the ladder. It is a process that one usually doesn't want to start in year 35. Luckily for the rest of us, she is anything but "usual". At this point, we started researching the available events and made the switch to the Star Dance Alliance.
We competed several regionals events that first year including Believe and Revolution. We earned our first Golden Ticket at Revolution that season and we were starting to hit our stride in the Spring of 2020-then the world stopped for everyone. DTRI was one of the lucky ones to make it to the other side of Covid and continued on the SDA circuit for our second year. We were able to attend multiple regionals again with Believe and Revolution working our way back into the competitive dance world alongside so many other studios beaten down by the global pandemic.
It was time to choose our first SDA National event and our only feasible option was Starpower at Mohegan Sun in CT. We had earned a few more Golden Tickets during our regional tour that year and had every intention of attending Worlds, so we wanted to keep Nationals as close as possible. Miss Jen was adamant about NOT going to Starpower. She had given me a multitude of reasons why including that it was the oldest and most established event on the circuit, it started it all, unwritten studio rules about crossing competitions and many more. I had never seen her this way before and up until recently, I never knew why. I finally got the real story.
Way back in 1989 when she opened, she began to receive competition schedules and mailers from all different events. Some in value pack coupons, some as business cards and then the intimidating full color packages from Starpower National Talent. She remembered how she never thought she would be good enough to form a competition team and attend an event such as this. As a dancer, she never competed, never even had been to a competition event. She cleaned the studio she attended for discounted tuition and began teaching in her early teenage years. She couldn't afford the fee for a solo, duo or trio so she never had one. She always has felt less than others for that reason so when she was the owner of her own studio and started receiving competitive information, she never considered entering one. Starpower was not even attainable in her mind at that time and that stuck with her right up until we walked into our first event with them, of course at a two stage, one week Nationals with some of the best talent we have ever seen.
We persevered and held our own at that event and once she had gotten over that mental hurdle, there was no turning back. Year three, the dancers under her direction, were able to claim numerous GoldenTickets, Nexstar's Diamond Studio Award, multiple choreography awards, overalls and a power ranking title for Region 9. We returned to Staprower Nationals and were able to claim our first Victory Cup as well as multiple choreography awards and performance of the year recognition. The past three years have been a incredible roller coaster ride for the studio as well as it's leader. The ride was not over, however.
Miss Jen had received an invitation to the Circle of Excellence Awards Gala at the very nationals only two years earlier she claimed she would never attend. We were lucky enough to be at the gala this past month amongst some of the very best in the industry. Having never been there, we had no idea what to expect. As we took our seats the normally dreaded "we would like a representative from (studio name) backstage" was announced. To our surprise, Dance Theatre of Rhode Island was one of the studios requested. She looked at me panicking and nervously went back stage. I did not see her again until the curtain opened and she was presented with a 2023 Choreographer of the Year Award. I have never seen her more proud!
Once the event had concluded, she had the opportunity to meet that full color package she had been so intimidated by 35 years ago, in person. She had made it and although it took some time, it was well worth the wait. Thank you Mr. Pate for continuing to make dreams like this come true, even without knowing it.