Lynnette’s celebrates four decades of dance in Park Ridge
Lynnette VanDien-Bertolotti, owner of Lynnette's School of Dance in Park Ridge, assists with a class Aug. 18 inside her Talcott Road studio. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Name: Lynnette’s School of Dance
Location: 517 Talcott Road, Park Ridge
Updated: October 1, 2012 4:27PM
PARK RIDGE — When Lynnette VanDien-Bertolotti opened her Park Ridge dance school in 1972, students pirouetted across the floor inside what was, even then, a piece of city history: the old Ridge Theatre at 203 Vine Ave.
Today, Lynnette’s School of Dance is on its way to becoming an equally important part of Park Ridge’s historic fabric as the studio celebrates four decades of helping dancers perfect their plies, pirouettes and leaps.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years,” VanDien-Bertolotti, of South Barrington, acknowledged days before a scheduled ribbon-cutting to celebrate the school’s anniversary. “It’s been a snap, it really has. I’m very lucky because I enjoy my work. It’s always been more of a hobby than work.”
VanDien-Bertolotti, who began dancing at age 3, was modeling and taking classes at Chicago’s Second City in 1972 when a dance teacher told her there was a studio for sale in Park Ridge.
“Unfortunately it didn’t have any students,” VanDien-Bertolotti noted.
No matter. VanDien-Bertolotti knew where to look, having taught dance classes herself, including a stint with the Chicago Park District. Through word of mouth she was able to open the doors of her new business with a troupe of 70 students.
The school operated out of the old movie house for about seven years until a planned demolition forced VanDien-Bertolotti to find a new studio to hang her ballet barre. Fortunately the parents of one her students owned a building at 517 Talcott Road, allowing Lynnette’s to relocate to what would become the school’s permanent home.
“Years later I was fortunate to buy the building, mainly to save my business,” she recounted. “I didn’t want someone buying it and kicking me out.”
Today, Lynnette’s, which is co-owned by VanDien-Bertolotti and her niece, Lorena Free Hamzic, offers classes in ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop with age groups representing toddlers through adults. Each summer the students perform a recital at Christian Heritage Academy in Northfield that features dances choreographed by Lynnette’s instructors.
VanDien-Bertolotti credits her studio’s success to its family atmosphere and for setting examples of “good morals and good virtues.”
“We’re really into clean music, clean actions, all that type of stuff. I think that’s why we’ve been in business all these years,” she said.
Children of the students VanDien-Bertolotti taught when they were just youngsters are now taking lessons and it won’t be long until a third generation begins slipping on their tap shoes, she noted. Many of VanDien-Bertolotti’s students have also gone on to become dance teachers themselves, while others have danced professionally or enjoyed a career in the theater. One of her students was actor John Pankow, who now stars in the Showtime comedy series, “Episodes,” and was known for his role as Ira Buchman on “Mad About You.”
Last year the studio hosted singer Ashlyne Huff, who taught a dance to the students, some of whom appeared in a music video.
But VanDien-Bertolotti says the proudest moment of her career came when her daughter, Taylor, now 20, danced on the stage for the first time as a child.
VanDien-Bertolotti acknowledges that the classes she most likes to teach involve the smallest dancers.
“Probably the 4- and 5-year-olds are my favorite,” she said. “They’re just so much fun; they’re so honest. They love you and you love them back. If you’re having a bad day you just go to work and they lift you up.”
It is this emotional “lift” that VanDien-Bertolotti credits from helping her through some of the most trying of times in her life. Dancing, she says, is her therapy.
“Between that and shopping I don’t have to see a psychiatrist,” she said, laughing.
VanDien-Bertolotti and Lynnette’s School of Dance also give back. The school recently held a fundraiser for Stargardt disease research in recognition of a student who was diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease. VanDien-Bertolotti also helps fundraise for the Mexican orphanage and is involved with Shane’s Foundation, which raises awareness about the dangers of furniture tip-overs and children, as well as the Foundation of Artists Mentored in Entertainment (F.A.M.E.), which provides scholarships to children in need who would like to pursue a life in the arts.