LEWISTON — Mary Jane Leonard, owner of Mary Jane’s School of Dance in the Marketplace Mall, has been teaching generations of families for 54 years, some of whom have been taking lessons for four decades.

She has a hard time defining why she is so passionate about her lifelong pursuit of being a dance instructor, other than it is something that comes from deep down inside her heart.

Myla Ray, front right, and other dancers rehearse a routine Tuesday for their upcoming recital next week, at Mary Jane’s School of Dance in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“I just hope to give students a place that feels like a second home, where they can feel comfortable to express themselves and develop friendships, build trust and bonds that help nurture kids and then get to watch them develop confidence and grow,” she said.

“It’s what helped me as a kid, and now I’m teaching kids, teens and grownups. When you enjoy what you are doing and see the delight on their faces, it’s more like having fun with an extended family than a job.”

Leonard’s journey began while taking lessons from Lois Camire, who had a long-established dance studio on Summer Street in Auburn. After becoming an accomplished young dancer, when Leonard got to high school, she and a friend began teaching classes at the Men’s Club on Main Street in Greene.

After a year of that, her parents recognized this was more than just a hobby for their daughter and converted their garage into a dance studio in 1975.



Jayla Cocroft does a backbend during a routine Tuesday at Mary Jane’s School of Dance in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Throughout this time, Camire helped Leonard build up her spirit, overcome challenges and develop her skills, including taking her on trips to New York to not only see professional shows but also pass accreditations to become certified.

When the number of students grew too large to accommodate in her garage, in 2000, she moved into a studio on Route 202 in Greene. Leonard eventually opened another in Turner. She operated both for about 10 years before moving to her current space in Lewiston.

When COVID-19 arrived, it became a challenge and nearly forced the doors closed for good.

“We tried Zoom classes when we were forced to close so everyone could finish what they started, and when we came back, masking, social distancing, cleaning, isolation, and trying to follow the rules and guidelines was a nightmare. It took a lot of the fun and passion out of it, but we persevered,” Leonard said.

Throughout the journey, Leonard’s husband, Kevin, has helped keep the business running. “He does all the little, and big, things behind the scenes that are essential. He is the one who plays the music at the start of the routines, “usually picking the correct one,” Leonard said.


Her daughter, Alanna, is following in her mother’s footsteps after graduating from college, and returning home to help run the dance studio.

Alanna Leonard, left, and her mother, Mary Jane Leonard, move students into position Tuesday at Mary Jane’s School of Dance in Lewiston. They are rehearsing for an upcoming recital on May 24 and 25 at Lewiston Middle School. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

After talking about the history of her journey and dancing through the years of progress, it started to become more clear what it was that had kept the fire burning inside her all these years.

“When you have a dancer work on something that they finally master and can’t wait to show us and their fellow dancers, see the look on their faces and how proud they are, and look to you with a sense of accomplishment, that’s what it’s all about,” she said.

Today, the studio has about a dozen staff members, some high school kids starting out just like she did a half century ago. And while the music and routines have evolved, the basic love of dance and fluid movement stands the test of time.

In fact, the dancers were rehearsing this week for their upcoming performance, a recital scheduled for May 24 and 25 at Lewiston Middle School.

For more information on the studio and ongoing classes, visit their website maryjanesschoolofdance.com.

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