Aug. 20, 2009
Denfeld grads knew the steps to make dance
center a success
By Louise Ernewein
It could almost be a plot from one of the musicals
in which they have excelled.
Fourteen years after love blossomed on stage at Denfeld High School
for Jennifer Madill and Dustin Hagen, the couple, now married, are
celebrating a decade in business by transforming their Madill Dance
Center into a hub for the performing arts.
With the addition next month of improv and musical
theater classes, and the expansion of the venue’s music classes,
comes a subtle name change, to the Madill Performing Arts Center.
It was a venture that began in 1999 when Jennifer
Madill Hagen and Dustin Hagen, both 22 and fresh out of dance and
musical theater college in New York, paid the first and last month’s
rent for a one-room space in the Denfeld Retail Center — just
a stone’s throw from the pair’s former high school —
with a credit card.
These days the couple, who most recently appeared
opposite one another as Belle and the Beast in the Playhouse’s
“Beauty and the Beast,” can be found at the 7,000-square-foot
Madill Performing Arts Center at the intersection of 22nd Avenue
West and Superior Street with their children, Cooper, 8, and Tanner,
“We never thought we couldn’t [do
it],” said Jennifer Madill Hagen, reflecting on the past 10
years of a venture that now has a $200,000-plus annual turnover.
“That’s what I think did it for us:
We never gave ourselves the option of it not working — and
still don’t,” Hagen said. “There’s always
a way to make it go right. You might have to work and be really
creative, and there have definitely been obstacles, but we always
just knew it was going to work. We are definitely optimists, and
always have been.”
Madill’s office manager, music coordinator
and teacher Adam Sippola is also no stranger to the stage.
Currently playing the lead role in “Sweeney
Todd” at the Duluth Play Ground, Sippola is one of 15 teachers
employed by the center and is heavily involved with the expansion
of the performing arts program.
“I see the potential of the music and theater
program being huge, to get up to a par where the dance program is
now,” he said. “A lot of the dance students are also
very interested in music and theater as well, and the hope is that
we can offer all of that in one space.”
The Madill Performing Arts Center boasts three
studios, music rooms, office, several waiting areas for families,
and an extremely pink girls’ dressing room.
Rules printed on the wall in the dancers’
lounge include: “No parents; No talking; Warm up; Homework.”
“I never thought I would own a half-a-million-dollar
building — ever, or that it would be feasible,” Jennifer
Madill Hagen said of the building, formerly Hal Smith’s Health
Spa, which the couple bought three years ago.
The Hagens, who work full-time on the business,
hope to expand the center’s annual displays of talent to include
two additional recitals by the growing numbers of students taking
lessons in voice, piano, violin, guitar, percussion and banjo. They
also plan to develop musicals and cabarets to incorporate incoming
students with a gift for acting.
“This is part of their push to broaden and
really embrace performing arts more broadly, and I think that’s
great,” said Rebecca Katz Harwood, assistant professor of
dance at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “I’m a
huge proponent of introducing people to the arts in childhood and
making it part of your life from an early age, and it’s increasingly
challenging to find a place to do that.”
The couple set a high standard for their 500-odd
students to emulate, bringing skills learned through hours of classes
and auditioning in classical ballet, hip hop, musical theater and
tap dance in New York.
It’s an ability that was visible early on,
according to Ellie Martin, the leading lady in the Duluth Playhouse’s
June production of “Doubt” and a school counselor who
worked with the two on performing arts at Denfeld, where she unwittingly
brought the couple together when she asked them to work on a skit
on teenage pregnancy.
“I knew that they were extremely talented,”
she said. “I think they could have easily stayed in New York
and been very successful, but it’s great that they came back
here. ... We are very lucky to have them.”