For six days out of the week, Amy Barup happily makes the hour-long drive from Ocala to Gainesville to take her son Tucker Gokey to his dance lessons at Pofahl Studios. The frequent trips back and forth are worth it for Barup, who gets to see her son grow significantly as dancer.
Gokey, 13, and other students at Pofahl Studios, ranging from ages 3 to 18, showed off their skills at the end-of-the-year dance recital on Sunday, performing their rendition of “The Little Mermaid” at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
At 6 p.m., a hush spread through the crowd of 597 people as the red curtains rolled up to reveal a projection of the underwater castle from the original Disney film. Barup, eager to see her son perform, had already been in the audience for about an hour.
“It’s very exciting to see [Tucker’s] progression throughout the school year,” Barup said before the show.
Pofahl Studios co-owner Judy Skinner,74, said the end-of-the-year recital has been a tradition since 1957. Her mother, Mary Ellen Pofahl, founded the studio a year before in 1956. Now, Skinner and her sister, Kim Tuttle, run it. This year’s show has been in the works since January.
With the curtains drawn, the night’s show started strong as students in the intermediate and advanced jazz class performed “Under the Sea.” The dancers wore Hawaiian shirts and straw hats as they flew across the stage. During the performance, the male dancers sprung into action doing back and front handsprings, drawing delighted gasps and cheers from the audience.
The show consisted of dances from multiple disciplines including ballet, tap, acrobatics, contemporary and hip-hop.
Parents and other family members in the audience had their phones glued to their hands, snapping photos and videos of the dancers on stage.
Seniors, performing with the studio for the last time, also got solo parts in the show. Although not a senior, Tucker performed a solo as well. He played the crab advisor to Ariel, Sebastian, in the show, but his solo dance was anything but crabby. In a bright red body suit, he gracefully leaped across the stage doing a rapid succession of pirouettes and flips, causing a eruption of whooping and cheering from audience members.
At the end of the first act, Ursula, played by graduating senior Kennedy Monroe, was introduced to the audience. Monroe, 18, stormed onto the stage like a deranged empress, using large and powerful movements. The senior recently graduated from PK Yonge Developmental Research School and has been dancing since age 3. She started dancing at Pofahl Studios in 2013.
The next act was quicker but no less mesmerizing than the first, which starred all of the youngest dancers. The advanced students took the stage for the rest of the night.
At the end of the performance, Skinner, also a director at Pofahl Studios, gave presents out to the seniors and scholarships to Pofahl Studio to students.
“I was absolutely delighted, and I think all of the kids felt good about how they performed that night,” she said.
Overall, the night was a bittersweet moment for Monroe as she cried and hugged her friends goodbye. Monroe was leaving the next morning for a flight to Louisiana as she planned to attend Louisiana State University in the Fall as a psychology major.
“The people at the studio are my closest friends,” Monroe said. “They are like a second family to me, so it’ll be hard to leave them.”