Mary Ellen Vowinkel
[Mary Ellen School of Dance]
Mary Ellen Vowinkel’s mother taught dance out of the basement of their Upstate New York home.
“I’m one of four daughters,” Mary Ellen says. “We basically lived dance from morning until night at our house.”
In 1977, Mary Ellen and her husband, Charles, moved to Ocala. In 1981 Mary Ellen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The disease didn’t slow her down, though.
“I’ve been told that with MS, you have to keep moving,” she says. “I thought about doing something other than dance with my life, but once dance is in your blood, that’s it.”
Mary Ellen started teaching dancercise and disco classes throughout Ocala.
“Many of my students asked if I ever taught children,” she recalls. “Mary Ellen’s School of Dance was the next logical step.”
Thirty years later, the studio is still going strong. Ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop, modern, point, acrobatic, and musical theater—Mary Ellen’s School of Dance offers them all, whether you’re three or 103. One would think that keeping up with three children, five grandchildren, and a great-grandchild would take its toll on someone, but for Mary Ellen, family is what keeps her going. She just needs a little more help these days. Mary Ellen now has a faculty staff of 14, including one of her grandchildren, Jessica Sorrells.
Two years ago Mary Ellen suffered an MS attack, making walking difficult. She stopped teaching and took over more of the behind-the-scenes tasks involved with her studio. And there’s enough to keep her busy. Mary Ellen is currently planning her 30th anniversary recital that will also celebrate her 50 years of teaching.
“We’re going to revisit some of the music we’ve used in the past,” Mary Ellen says. “Many former teachers and students will perform an opening number. It was important for me to honor them because without a great faculty and the support from students and their parents, I would never have been able to grow and continue with the school.”
For Mary Ellen, though, the biggest reward is watching her students develop as dancers.
“I love to show the children that this is a fun place filled with laughter,” she says. “At the same time, they will definitely learn the fundamentals of dance. Many of my past students remained in dance throughout college and are now pursuing their own careers in the field.”
One of her newest students is nearly two years old. Her granddaughter Jessica’s little girl may very well have been born dancing—after all, it’s in her blood.
“It fills me with joy,” Mary Ellen says with a smile, “to see her jumping around the studio and having fun.”
Want to know more?
Mary Ellen School of Dance
3650 NE 25th St., Ocala
30th Anniversary Recital
June 12: 7pm
June 13: 2pm and 7pm
West Port High School Auditorium
Open to the public