The dance instructor known fondly by her students as “Miss Jeanne” has closed her studio after 66 years.
Jeanne Laich, 87, who founded Jeanne’s Dance Academy on March 3, 1950, closed her Griffith-based business in late May, Kristie Vaughan said.
Vaughan had served as a longtime dance instructor at the studio and is Laich’s daughter.
“We’re retiring after 66 years and trying to stay in a positive light,” Vaughan said of the mutual decision.
Laich, an energetic lady who has retained her lean dancer’s body, began her career as a professional dancer with a group called the Ten Coeds. She and the other dancers traveled by bus to dance at state fairs, movie theaters and other venues.
The Ten Coeds were ready to go on tour to Hawaii in 1949 but a six-month dock strike curtailed boat travel and the show had to be canceled, Laich said.
Laich said she was led to the next chapter in her career after a suggestion from her instructor, Chicago tap legend Tommy Sutton, of the Mayfair Academy.
“Why not try a dance studio?” Laich remembers him asking her.
Laich took $33 in winnings from a bingo game, put an ad in the local newspaper and taught her first dance classes at space rented in the Highland American Legion Hall.
Not long afterward, Laich said she met and married her husband, Marion Laich, a builder, and he added on a studio in their Griffith home.
The studio, which was enlarged and expanded by her late husband, is the location that became a second home for Cheryl Blythe, who now lives in Florida and has her own dance academy.
Blythe, who grew up in Griffith, was only 3 when she started taking lessons with Laich as had her mother before her.
Now, at age 38, Blythe said she has wonderful memories of teaching at the dance studio for six years and becoming a dancer receiving jobs on the Disney Cruise Line and with the Young Americans.
I spent many, many hours and days in my second home at the Jeanne Dance Academy. Miss Jeanne has given me a gift that I will never be able to repay and that is the love of dance,” Blythe said.
Another former student, Mark Lengyel, 39, started taking tap dancing lessons from Laich when he was 5 years old.
The former Merrillville resident credits Laich with his going on to become a professional dancer, including performing at Universal Studios and Disney World in Florida. Lengyel, who also operates a dance studio out of his Charlotte, North Carolina, home, also performs with a percussion/tap dancing group called Street Beatz.
He credits his dancing career, including a spot on “America’s Got Talent,” to his instruction from Laich.
“She certainly is an icon,” Lengyel said.
Vaughan, 50, taught at the studio for 35 years with her mother, and estimates that some 23,000 students were taught dance there through the years.
Retirement for Laich and Vaughan includes relocating to Florida, where plans are to still teach dancing on a part-time basis at children’s hospitals and nursing homes.
“We’re retiring and we’ll soon be teaching dancing in the sand and not in the snow,” Vaughan joked.
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