From Donna’s Dancers into Spotlight

  • Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2013 12:25 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, August 25, 2013 12:26 a.m.
Marianna Jarrett leads a class at her studio on Brenner Avenue. She is the daughter of Donna Cesario and has taken over her mother’s business, Donna’s Dancers,  and will operate the studio as Spotlight Dance Co.
Marianna Jarrett leads a class at her studio on Brenner Avenue. She is the daughter of Donna Cesario and has taken over her mother’s business, Donna’s Dancers, and will operate the studio as Spotlight Dance Co.

The baton has been passed — along with the ballet shoes, wigs, costumes and props.

Marianna Jarrett opened Spotlight Dance Studio on Aug. 1. Her mother, Donna Cesario, longtime owner of Donna’s Dancers, closed her business in June. Cesario danced for 42 years, and decided it was time to step aside — or perhaps waltz aside, as the case may be.

“My legs won’t do what they did,” Cesario notes.

Jarrett, who will be 23 in September, grew up in her mom’s dance studio.

“The bus would take me to the dance studio after school,” she remembers. “I didn’t know I wanted to teach dance until my senior year in high school.”

Cesario was hospitalized and Jarrett took over classes for a week.

“I thought, this is what I’m meant to do,” Jarrett says. “Once I got the taste for it, I loved it.”

Her mom has always loved kids and loved dancing. In a family of four children, lessons weren’t in the cards — until Cesario came down with a mild case of polio, and the doctor recommended exercise to strengthen the 2-year-old’s legs.

“They put me in dance classes,” Cesario says. “It just happened to be my one and only talent.”

Jarrett likes the location of Spotlight, which is on Brenner Avenue just a couple of blocks from Catawba College. Already, the school’s drama department has asked her to teach mambo and salsa classes. She’s also offering a barre sculpting class that combines ballet, pilates and yoga.

“It’s an intense, full-body workout,” Jarrett says.

Cesario will continue teaching classes, including eight-week sessions of shag and ballroom dancing, as well as classes for 2- to 3-year-olds and 6- to 8-year-olds.

The studio has two dance rooms — one light turquoise, the other lime green — so Jarrett has added staff to take advantage of the extra space. Spotlight offers dance classes for children ages 2 to 18, as well as classes for adults.

Chantal Lohr teaches 4- and 5-year-olds, Kristy McSwain teaches gymnastics, and Tiffany Tolbert will begin teaching hip-hop classes in October.

“We are offering a broader variety of classes,” Jarrett says, “and I would love to include salsa, too.”

Jarrett hopes to complete her degree in dance education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but her family is taking priority for now. She and husband, Kiel, have a son, Waylen, born March 28.

Jarrett keeps Waylen while her husband works, and then he takes over when she leaves for the studio late in the afternoon.

“I know what to do here in the studio,” she says. “It’s not brand-new. Luckily, my husband is very supportive. That’s been a big help. He’s my studio handyman.”

Jarrett continues to offer dance in a Christian environment, just like her mom did.

“I feel like my daughter is safe here,” says Leighann Haglan, whose daughter Alee, 11, is a dance student. “She learns dance as an art. I know I’m not going to see her do something that’s inappropriate for her age. I like the values. It’s so built Alee’s self-confidence.”

In the dance studio’s lobby hangs a huge poster of a pair of ballet shoes with the Martha Graham quote, “The body says what words cannot.”

Situated above a cream-colored sofa are two fuchsia stars framing the saying, “Love what you do.”

Jarrett’s laughter echoes from the dance room around the corner. She’s clearly doing just that.

For more information about Spotlight Dance Studio, visit or call 704-232-2427.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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