The Last Dance: Northport’s Academy of Ballet and Jazz Closes After 33 Years
The Academy of Ballet and Jazz has officially closed its studio doors after 33 years in business. The dance studio, located on Watermelon Road in Northport, Alabama, had its final day of business in June of 2020.
ABJ founder and owner Susu Prout has retired after 42 years in the dance industry, resulting in the recent closure of her beloved dance studio. The 4,000 sq. ft. space, which was originally called Alabama Academy of Ballet, was built on Watermelon Road in 1988.
A drive-by retirement party was held in June to honor Prout's hard work and dedication over the last 33 years at ABJ. Though the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately sped up the closing of the studio, Prout said her long-awaited retirement was already in the works.
According to Prout, the pandemic has really put things into perspective for her and her family.
"It was time for me to be home more with my husband and my dogs, and be a normal person. Being a dance teacher, studio owner, and dancer is not normal. It is not a normal life," Prout said. "I was rarely home at a real dinner time with my husband."
Prout, who began dancing at the age of 2, attended Texas Christian University where she majored in classical ballet. After finishing her degree, the Tuscaloosa native returned to her hometown to accomplish her dream of having her very own dance studio.
Prior to the opening of the ABJ studio on Watermelon Road, Prout operated a dance studio inside of small home located in East Tuscaloosa. Prout remodeled the house and opened her first studio, which was called the Academy of Ballet, in September of 1977.
"I tore out all of the walls, put up barres and put in a dance floor. I had that studio for 10 years and I quickly outgrew it," Prout said. "So then, the next step was to build my dream studio, which I did in 1988 at its current location and Watermelon Road."
Malinda Merkel was one of Prout's very first dance students in 1979. Merkel met Prout in seventh grade as she often attended Prout's dance classes.
Merkel said Prout made a huge impact on her life as a dancer. Merkle also added that she encouraged Prout to open the dance studio on Watermelon Road.
Prout said retiring has been bittersweet as she will miss her former dancers and the relationships they've formed over the years.
"I had contact with so many dancers through the years. I raised so many young dancers from 18 months old or 2 years old, and I would see them all the way through graduation," Prout said.
After years of dedicating its services to classical ballet, Prout and her team eventually grew the studio into the Academy of Ballet and Jazz. The rebranded studio began to offer a variety of classes including jazz, lyrical, tap, contemporary and hip hop. The studio also included tumbling and gymnastics into their diverse programming.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted a lot of business communities across the world. Unfortunately, ABJ was no exception to the sudden life-altering effects of the pandemic and had to make a few adjustments. Classes were taught virtually on Zoom, competitions and recitals were postponed and much more.
Many former dancers and parents of ABJ had nothing but great things to say about Prout and her excellent teaching.
Suzanne McCool said she is honored that both of her daughters had the opportunity to dance with Prout at the ABJ studio. McCool also said she considers Prout to be a good friend, even family.
Suzanne's daughter, Mimi McCool, 19, danced at the studio from age 3 until the age of 18. She also taught at the studio for a few years until it suddenly closed in June of 2020.
McCool said she had a great relationship with Prout and even considered her as a "Dance Mom."
"I've done everything and much more than I ever imagined I would do. I mean, I never envisioned my studio to look the way that it did," Prout said. "I knew that when I was five years old that I dreamed of owning a studio. That's what I always wanted to do. It's much bigger and much more wonderful than I ever dreamed it would be."