VALDOSTA -- Taking classes at Gerlock Dance Studio has been a rite of passage for young girls in Valdosta for 55 years, and thanks to longtime teacher Carol Cowart, the studio will continue to operate as usual.

Cowart purchased the studio from her cousin, Bonnie Gerlock, whose mother, Josephine, founded the dance studio in 1947. Cowart began taking dance classes at the tender age of 3, and began teaching classes at the studio when she was 15.

"I've been teaching dance here for 33 years, including ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, and hip-hop, and I may start offering yoga this year, too," Cowart said.

If she hadn't decided to buy the studio, chances are it would have closed, ending more than five decades of tradition in Valdosta. Gerlock is still in its original Valdosta home at 1618 N. Lee St., and Cowart plans to renovate and update the interior.

"I'm giving it a complete face lift, adding murals of ballerinas and redoing the office and lobby areas."

Cowart said the two large studios keep the four teachers busy from morning until night with back-to-back classes for all age groups.

"We offer classes for ages 3 and up. I even teach a class for 2 1/2-year-olds, which is really basic," she said.

Many of the girls who start classes at a young age have stayed with the studio for years. "We just had 12 seniors graduate, and they've been here in the same class together since they were 3."

Cowart said part of the reason the girls keep taking the lessons year after year is because the studio has always tried to work around their other scheduled activities when planning classes, such as cheerleading and band.

The business is a family affair, and Cowart has hired her mother, Merle Reddick, to be the studio's accountant. With an established name and location, she said there are no plans at this point to change either one.

"I really wanted to do this because I love kids and this is such a great opportunity for me." Cowart said when she hires a new teacher, she makes sure their first priority is the children. "They have to love my kids. Dance is second."

Registration has started for fall classes, which begin Aug. 12, and the renovations are expected to be complete by the time fittings start the last week of July.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, please call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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