As a young girl dancing on her father’s feet in the comfort of her Louisiana home, Teresa Merritt, owner of Richmond Hill’s Life Moves Dance Studio, was introduced to the sounds of Broadway, Sinatra and Streisand.
“My love and passion for theater arts began a long time ago,” Merritt said.
At age 12, she began taking organized dance classes. Dance birthed a dream and has been an extension of Merritt since twirling on her dad’s feet.
Her father, Delta Airlines supervisor Franklin Thomas Bautsch, made theater and Broadway important. Despite having five children, Bautsch knew that after one year of dance, Teresa had a heart for it.
A perk of working for Delta meant free flights to New York City. At 13, just out of eighth grade, she boarded a plane with her father and headed for the big city.
“I didn’t realize the caliber of dancers I was seeing,” Merritt said. “I was a kid in awe.”
She saw Ann Reinking, Cheetah Revira and Debbie Reynolds — all iconic to young Teresa from Louisiana.
She and her father would frequent New York as time would allow.
“Dad made sure we went; he thought it was important,” Merritt said.
She further developed her dancing in her hometown of Kenner, Louisiana. She began training in the areas of ballet and jazz. At the young age of 14, she began helping teach dance classes.
Teresa continued to develop while dancing with Crescent City Movin’ Company. This local dance studio provided the opportunity to perform at conventions, business openings, discos, night clubs, the opening of the New Orleans Fair Grounds and other venues throughout the city. Merritt also performed in productions of “The Nutcracker” and “Giselle.”
Merritt and her family moved to Richmond Hill in 1994. After working in ministry and within the community, Merritt opened the doors to her own dance studio in 1999. A lifelong dream became reality.
“I was very scared,” she acknowledged. “I didn’t know if I could do what I did in my church out in the community.
“My heart is to teach kids how to dance to the glory of God,” Merritt continued. “We use our bodies in such a way that is pleasing to him. Anybody should be able to watch you dance.”
With more than 42 years of experience teaching dance, Merritt isn’t slowing down. Ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, tumbling, contemporary and
interpretive praise dance — she can do it all.
This past January launched a new year and a new address for Life Moves. The studio is now at 11260 Highway 144 in a state-of-the-art facility. Despite the new location, large rooms and spacious lobby, one thing remains — Merritt’s passion for dance.
“It is kind of like my match made in heaven, to be able to do what I love to do ever since I was a little girl,” she said. “I wanted to have a business not just for me, but for others. I am starting to see that come forth this year, to use it for other purposes besides dance.”
Merritt has worn many hats in the community. She was recently named Rotarian of the Year by the Richmond Hill Rotary Club. Her family, Life Moves and the community keep Teresa Merritt on her toes.
“In life and dance, what you put in, you get out,” she said. “Part of my vision was to be able to open the doors to the community.”
She intended to have a place for that others could house events. One of those takes place Friday. Life Moves Dance Studio has teamed up with Family Promise of Bryan County to host a middle school dance, in which middle school-age students are invited to dance, enjoy music, food and a photo booth and, most importantly, have a safe place to make memories. All proceeds go to Family Promise.
“Dance brings such a wellspring,” Merritt said. “It helps us to build character. I like being able to plant seeds in all these families. I will continue to help other people to the best of my ability while they are here with me.”