Susan Browney always knew she’d own a dance studio one day. The Lake Taylor High School and Old Dominion University graduate danced professionally locally and on the West Coast.
Golden Slippers Dance Academy was born when her father co-signed a $5,000 loan for a five-year commercial lease on a building in Lynnhaven when Browney was 24.
“I was so young and naïve,” she said. “I didn’t understand that I could fail.”
And yes, it was scary, she added. She copied flyers at the library and “literary got on a bicycle and rode around the area.”
Word spread, and she opened with 88 students.
Flash forward to 2019, when more than 50 former students will return for a 40th anniversary celebration on stage during the recitals June 14 and 16 at Chrysler Hall. They’ll join more than 1,000 dancers from Browney’s five Golden Slippers locations.
“I feel like my life has flashed before my eyes,” Browney said at one of the alumni group’s practice sessions. She energetically taught them the fast-paced choreography to a medley of Motown tunes by The Jackson 5; Earth, Wind, and Fire; James Brown and more.
“Work it!” she exclaimed. “I feel the energy in the room!”
Golden Slippers has been a family affair for many. Growing up, Angie Lee’s mother danced with Browney at a Norfolk studio.
Lee, a Lakeview Park resident, and her sister danced at Golden Slippers, and now Lee’s daughter Alysa Bailey is one of Browney’s proteges. Browney has made the rehearsals fun, Lee said. “She’s got some spunk in her!”
Santina Irving from Chesapeake entered Golden Slippers in 1995 at age 5. She’s excited to get back on the stage, especially because her 5-year-old daughter Alliyahna is also in the show.
Gemma Mateo began dancing at Browney’s studio in 1991 when she was 4.
“This was our home,” said the 2005 Landstown High School graduate.
Mateo said she was a shy young girl, who learned how to be a leader. Her brother Neal Mateo joined in at the age of 8 or 9.
“It helped me open up,” said the 35-year-old, who earned a dance degree from Old Dominion.
Windsor Woods resident Mary Donahue Berryman was part of Golden Slippers for about 10 years.
“So many of us attribute our love for dance to Susan,” said the 1995 First Colonial High School graduate.
Brittany Robles Little traveled from Maryland with her Golden Slippers dance bag. She danced more than 20 years beginning in 1985, and was part of Browney’s performing company and competition team.
“Oh my gosh, dance was everything,” she said. The art helped her physically and mentally, and also kept her out of trouble, she added.
Oceanfront resident Courtney Stowe, 40, was part of the studio for about a decade beginning in the 1980s, and now has her own wellness company. She gained confidence and learned “presentation skills and appreciation for the arts,” she said.
Browney wondered if former students would return to help celebrate the milestone.
“I just put it out there on Facebook, and it went crazy,” she said. “Never in my wildest dreams” did she think the response would be so wonderful, she said.
“It’s nice I’ve been able to make a career in something I love so much.” And having students come back is icing on the cake, she said.
“It brings me so much joy.”