The legacy of Martha Douce began many years ago when her mother took her to a baton camp and an instructor commented on her dance talent. Douce started teaching herself to dance at the age of 12. Her instructor career began at the age of 13 when Douce taught neighbors to dance in the backyard. A neighboring car dealer allowed Douce to teach classes inside their building on Saturdays when the weather was bad.
Douce’s father helped her buy a house on Girard Avenue as well as a grocery store beside the home. Douce converted the grocery store to a studio and connected the house to her studio.
Suzanne Harris, Douce’s daughter, started dancing at the age of two.
“There were times I didn’t want to go to dance. I wanted to spend my Saturday mornings watching television. It was so hard, but I’m so glad I stuck with it,” said Harris.
Harris believes through the years she has seen dance teach children responsibility and commitment.
Harris runs Douce Dance Studio in Delaware and Marion. Classes run throughout the week. Her studio has multiple generations of instructors and dancers. Harris notes all of her family members have danced.
“Even my boys danced. They would go to football camps and coaches would notice their great footwork,” Harris said. “It helps in everything!”
Harris has had parents tell her how thankful they are for their children to have experienced dance and that it has given them confidence and assures them they can try new things.
Not everyone starts dancing with confidence.
“One of my favorite things about my mom was when students would start and be scared or crying. Mom would peel their hands off and tell the kids to trust her. She would sit and just talk to them. They would start talking about their animals or siblings. Soon, the kids would feel more comfortable and be willing to join the dance class,” Harris said. “I get to do that now for students.”
Harris wants students to leave each class knowing they have done a great job. She wants each child to know they are wonderful and special. She also teaches students the importance of being kind to others.
“We talk to the children about being kind. We even encourage them to thank whoever pays for their dance lessons,” Harris said. “We want kids to know we care, they do great when they are here, and that they should be kind to others.”
Harris enjoys watching her students progress. She enjoys seeing them help other students.
“My job is very rewarding. When I’m watching the recital, I remember how some of the students wouldn’t come into class or that they get a leap they worked hard on,” Harris said.
All classes have two or more teachers or helpers. Harris uses dance to teach leadership and mentoring skills. She starts asking students as early as 11 to be a helper in class. At the age of 14, they can become a teacher with Harris.
“When you teach, you can hear what a step is supposed to be. The music tells you,” said Harris. “When they hear the steps in the music, they become the choreographer.”
Harris attributes experiences to her mother’s legacy.
“I’m so much like my mother,” said Harris. “You can be an adult when you need to be, but relate to children. I think that’s why kids couldn’t get enough of my mother.”
Harris has a heart for Marion.
“Marion is a great community. Kids need to keep being active and involved with the right people and doing the right things. We have to help them along,” Harris said. “We don’t always do everything right, but if they see us trying, it helps give them confidence.”