When Cassandra Devine was eight years old and in third grade, after beginning dance lessons, she came home and told her mother she had decided she was going to be a dancer.
Now 68, the Clarks Green resident plans to retire this month after a 50-year career teaching that very art.
“Saying good-bye is never easy,” she wrote in a farewell message to past and present students. “I have been teaching dance since I was 18, this season marks 50 years of doing what I have always loved, and this has made my professional life very rewarding. I have been blessed by teaching, knowing and loving so many devoted students.”
Over the years, Devine taught thousands of young students, including her own two girls: Jaclene Devine, who will take over the school as owner and
director upon Cassandra Devine’s retirement and Kira Coviello, who is a professional performer.
“My mom has touched so many young people’s lives,” said Jaclene Devine. “She has taught all of us who danced with her not just about dance but about confidence, poise, grace and a dedication to hard work: Life lessons that we will all carry throughout our lives.”
Cassandra Devine said after deciding to be a dancer, as she grew older, she continued working toward that goal. She spent a summer at the American Ballet Theater School in New York City, then continued studying under her mentor, area dance teacher Constance Reynolds. Next, she studied from Queens University, Ontario, Canada, in preparation for the exams at the Royal Academy of Ballet, London, England, where she later passed the exams and became a member.
At age 18, she opened her first two dance schools—one in Dalton and one in Moscow. In 1965, she was married and moved to Parsippany, N.J., where she taught dance for nine years. She then moved to Florida, where she taught at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.
She returned to the area in 1976 and has now taught dance in Waverly for 37 years.
“This career has been very rewarding to me in many ways,” she said. “I’m one of the lucky people who found something they love and earned a living doing it.”
She said one of the best aspects of teaching dance is “watching the children progress from little three-year-olds to lovely men and women, many of whom have careers in dance.”
“But even those who don’t have a career in dance,” she added, “feel they have gained grace, poise and confidence.”
She said her studio, Devine School of Dance, located in the Waverly Community House, currently has about 125 families enrolled. About 200 of those students will perform in her final recitals May 18 at 7:30 p.m. and May 19 at 2 p.m. in the Abington Heights High School Auditorium. The performances, titled “Silver Screen Spectacular,” are open to the public and tickets will be available at the doors.
The teacher said she hopes to welcome back many previous students to the recitals.
Six of her eight grandchildren and three great-nieces will offer a tribute performance in her honor during the recitals. Grandsons Zach Smith, 14, Carson Smith, 11 and Avery Smith, 9, will play “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music,” on the cello, viola and violin. Dancing to the music will be granddaughters Molly Devine, 9, Clare Devine, 8, and Grace Devine, 5, along with great nieces Skylar Conway, 13, Chloe Conway, 9 and Olivia Conway, 4.
She said she is proud of all her students, including her family.
“I am especially proud to leave you with my talented daughter, Jackie,” she wrote in the farewell message, “who has worked by my side for the last 30 years, first as my demonstrator, then as an instructor, and finally as my partner in this enterprise. It is not every parent who has the satisfaction of seeing her life’s work continue with one’s offspring; in this—as in my whole charmed career—I am one of the lucky ones!”
“This recital,” she continued, “as my final production, is, of course, bittersweet. To all my students, past and present, I will hold the joys that you have given me in my heart forever.”