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A decade of dance

Ben Davis High School secretary celebrates 10th year as owner of the Premier Academy of the Performing Arts
Sarah Ansert
On her last day at Ben Davis, Meghan Molsberry poses before she moves to on to her new fulltime position running her dance studio.

The best way Meaghan Molsberry describes her teaching style is chaotic.

Crazy, wild and loud.

Molsberry is on the floor with her tumbling students, spotting them during their rolls, cartwheels, handsprings and handstands on their gym mats. 2024 marks Molsberry’s 10th year as the owner of the Premier Academy of the Performing Arts, where she is big on hugs and calls-and-responses with her students — the sillier, the better.

“I sing terribly, but I sing all the time,” Molsberry said. “I have other teachers who are quiet, reserved and teach in a whisper voice. For some kids, that is the perfect teacher. That is not me. I’m loud. I’m really loud.”

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“A light bulb moment”

Molsberry’s own dance career began when she was 2 years old at Stage Door Academy, which became her home away from home. When she wasn’t dancing or assisting classes there, she was at Ben Davis High School’s theater, taking on different roles and personalities to escape and be in tune with her body.

After graduating from Ben Davis High School, Molsberry received a full-ride to Ball State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance program as a Lilly Endowment Scholar. Even as a college student, she would drive home to Indianapolis to teach weekend dance classes.

While studying theater and dance, she took classes in producing, directing and prop building. These all became valuable skills in 2014 when the opportunity to be a dance studio owner fell into Molsberry’s lap, she said.

“The minute [the previous studio owner] offered it to me, it was a light bulb moment,” Molsberry said. “[I thought,] ‘This is it. This is really what I want to do more than teaching and live theater. This is my opportunity to reach more people and get to be a creative director for more than just one tiny piece of the show but the whole show.’”

Persevering with passion

When Molsberry thinks back to all the greatest lessons she learned in her dance classes, she said, very few of them were about dance techniques. That’s why instead of training professional dancers, she focuses on training professional people who are artistic, imaginative and confident.

“[Dance] is about perseverance, dedication and trying things until you get it right,” Molsberry said. “If we’re going with a dance that has a storyline, no matter how weird or odd you think it is, I want you to feel comfortable trying to create that piece with me… If you get comfortable stepping outside of your box, you can do a lot with that outside of the dance studio.”

Autumn Hiemer is one of Molsberry’s students who has honed her ability to persevere and stay determined while facing challenging movements and techniques. When she was younger, Hiemer struggled landing side leaps and would use her hands for balance during aerials, but now she can do these moves “like it’s nothing,” she said.

“[Molsberry] wants you to do so well,” Hiemer said. “She believes in you in every way possible. She’s so kind and caring. I love how she believes in me and everything that I can do now.”

Hiemer enrolled at the Premier Academy of the Performing Arts when she was five years old. Now as a freshman at Indiana Connection Academy, an online public high school, she takes ballet, modern jazz, hip hop, and contemporary lyrical dance classes at Molsberry’s studio.

Hiemer also assists Molsberry’s younger students in their tumbling, ballet, jazz and tap classes. If a student is struggling with a movement, Hiemer will pull them to the side to point them in the right direction. Being Molsberry’s assistant teacher is giving her hands-on experience in what she plans to pursue after graduating high school: becoming a physical therapist.

“If one or two [dancers] can’t do the move, I’ll help them by showing them they can do it, it just takes practice and time,” Hiemer said. “I show kindness to these little dancers who want to be something in dance someday.”

Assistant teaching is also fueling her passion for dance, where she loves leaving all her worries behind once the stage lights go out.

“When you’re younger, you’re still trying to figure out the different movements,” Hiemer said. “But, once you understand your body and the technical ways, it’s so cool to add your emotions and your own style. I just enjoy every part of [dancing] when you get to be free with it.”

From student to colleague

Earlier this semester, Molsberry and her instructors focused on character development to prepare for their year-end show, “Beauty and the Beast.” While most students gravitate toward wanting to embody Belle, Molsberry said, she and her instructors encouraged their students to appreciate the qualities of each “Beauty and the Beast” character and translate them into their performances, like Lumiere’s confidence or Cosgworth’s leadership.

One of Molsberry’s instructors is Bre Williams, who teaches ballet, lyrical, tap and jazz classes to students ages 6-8 years old and 9-15 years old. Williams began at the Premier Academy of the Performing Arts as a dancer when she was 2 years old.

Becoming one of Molsberry’s colleagues was a seamless transition, Williams said, because of their close-knit relationship while she was Molsberry’s student. Road-tripping with Molsberry through the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee belting out “Rocky Top” by the Osborne Brothers together on repeat is Williams’ most cherished memory with Molsberry.

“Once [Molsberry] took over the studio, it was even more of a home,” Williams said. “I call her my bonus mom. She just always made [the studio] really comforting, and I was there more than I was at my actual house. It’s really my second home, and it makes dance feel more special.”

As one of Williams’ mentors, Molsberry helps her create lesson plans and brainstorm themes for her students’ performances. Molsberry has also helped Williams strengthen her classroom management skills, so Williams can guide her younger dancers to express themselves constructively rather than taking out their frustrations on their peers.

“We’re so comfortable with each other, so we’re not afraid to say, ‘You should do this instead,’” Williams said. “She’s given me a lot of good tips on how to help [students] get through their emotions so that they can still feel like they can come to dance, and they are welcomed, even on their bad days.”

Even while she was Molsberry’s assistant teacher as a 12 year old, Williams said, she appreciated how Molsberry would value her opinions and suggestions. Now, dancing and teaching are Williams’ sole passions, she said, and Molsberry continues to nurture these passions within her every day.

“I love how I impact [my students’] lives and how I can be a safe space for them,” Williams said. “If they’re having a bad day, I can really flip their day around just with my class.”

A place for all

Over the past 10 years running her dance studio, Molsberry has learned a lot about resilience, she said, as she chooses music, orders costumes, designs choreography and registers students for competitions.

Because she knows she isn’t going to please everyone, she said, she steers clear of conflict and focuses on what she’s proud of. Doing so has not only made her a better person but has also benefited her mental health, she said.

“There’s nobody who’s a small business owner who has not had their ups and downs.” Molsberry said. “The world is a lot better if you step out of your shoes for a minute and say, ‘Here’s what I did right, here’s what I did wrong, here’s where I need to grow and here’s what I need to let go.’”

Instead of prioritizing enrollment or awards, Molsberry plans to continue cultivating a safe and inclusive culture at the Premier Academy of the Performing Arts that caters to her students’ diverse needs. No matter whether her students attend the studio five days a week or take a weekly one-hour class, Molsberry said, she aspires to put her “whole heart and soul” into creating a welcoming space for her students to thrive in dance, their academics and building friendships.

“If you’re a super fluid ballet dancer, I want to have a space for you,” Molsberry said. “If you’re a really sharp hip hopper, I want to have a space for you. For the kid who has two left feet who’s never going to get their kick ball change — that’s okay. I have a space for you too.”

Premier Academy of the Performing Arts is located at 8405 E. U.S. Highway 36 in Avon, Indiana. To learn more about Meaghan Molsberry and the Premier Academy of the Performing Arts, visit its website or its Facebook page @PremierAcademyPA.

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