Georgia on their minds after 65 years

Georgia on their minds after 65 years
Sue Gilson, left, owner of Georgia’s School of Dance in Escondido, works with students during a class this week. The studio is holding a 65th anniversary recital on June 22-23 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Photo by Steve Puterski

ESCONDIDO — Over the past 65 years, Georgia’s School of Dance has become a part of the fabric of the city.

From grandparents to grandchildren, the dance studio has maintained its presence through good times and bad. Now, owner Sue Gilson is searching for alumni to be part of the studio’s 65th anniversary recital on June 22 and June 23 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Gilson was gifted the studio after founder Georgia Copeland died in 1998. Gilson, who had already worked for Copeland for 25 years, said she was in utter shock upon hearing Copeland left her beloved studio in Gilson’s name.

“We formed a class on Thursdays just for those who are coming back,” Gilson said. “For the recital, I try to keep the prices down. I want family to come and watch.”

The recital will be over two days, open to the public and feature a number of performances from hip hop to ballet to jazz and tap. Alumni, of course, are the featured guests, Gilson said.

Copeland still casts a large shadow at the center as a number of murals are dedicated in her honor. Also, tidbits about her colorful life, such as she once dated Al Capone’s brother, and was an MGM starlet working alongside legends such as Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Buddy Edsen and Esther Williams.

Although Copeland had some success in professional dance, she and her husband, Jack, opened the recreational studio in Escondido. For the past 40 years, it has called 142 E. Grand Ave. home, but recently expanded to the building next door giving the studio four dance floors.

Dancers range in age from 18 months to adults, while the disciplines include ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, Pilates, jazz funk and contemporary, to name a few.

“They are here to learn to dance, learn respect for each other and have fun,” Gilson said. “We work around everybody’s schedule. I think everybody in Escondido has been through Georgia’s at one time or another.”

Instructor Anthony Russell, who has taught at the studio for 20 years, said the studio is a source of pride and tradition in the city. No matter the skill level, he said all are welcome, although a majority of the 150 students are children.

Russell, who also dances with the California Ballet Company, said the studio reinforces home life and gives the students time to tend to their schoolwork.

For the older students, though, he is a source of knowledge of how professional dance companies operate. He said it is important for those who want to purse a career in dance to research their auditions to maximize their chances of success.

“It’s just like a home base and a place where people can bring their kids,” Russell said. “It’s not just a place where we teach dance, we mentor them. Every kid who has gone through the program has gone off to college and is successful.”

And while some students may choose to pursue a career, many are there for the love of dancing. Jessica Smith’s two children attend and can’t get enough.

She said it’s a home away from home and provides confidence, but also drives home commitment and dedication to her youngsters. And the studio is always willing to help when it can.

Alumni who want to participate are urged to contact Gilson at


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