2015 Greatmats National Dance Instructor of the Year

Performing Arts Teacher wins National Dance Instructor of the Year Award

There's something about rags-to-riches stories that warm the heart. Dance instructor Rosanne Vavasis knows a little about that. The 52-year-old former ''Rocky II'' extra, has turned her Hudson, Florida, performance arts studio, Gotta Dance, into a launching pad for inspiring dancers, actors and singers of all walks of life, including those with financial, physical and developmental challenges. And for her efforts, she has been named the , an award presented by Greatmats, a Wisconsin-based national dance and specialty flooring company.

''Rocky II,'' a 1979 iconic rags-to-riches film, features kind-hearted Italian-American boxer Rocky Balboa getting a second chance at the world heavyweight boxing title. As Balboa gained popularity in his hometown of Philadelphia, Penn., his training for a rematch title bout against reigning champion Apollo Creed gained widespread community support. In one training scene of the movie, Balboa, runs down the streets of Philadelphia, and a supportive crowd of children gathers to chase him during his run.

During casting for the movie, Rosanne was initially deemed too tall to be one of the children in the chase, but actor/writer/director Sylvester Stallone, recognizing her Italian heritage, told her to join in anyway.

In many ways, Rosanne has adopted the spirit of the ''Rocky'' movie franchise. She takes pride in helping all children reach their goals, regardless of the social or financial status. Her generosity runs deep at Gotta Dance, where she personalizes classes to fit the financial, emotional and physical needs of her clients.

Rosanne takes pride in knowing she's helping children become confident and happy while pursuing something they love.

''You want them to have everything,'' Rosanne said. ''Some of the poorest kids are the most talented.''

Dance and Performing Arts Background
Rosanne began dancing at age 3 in Queens, N.Y., and was performing on Broadway by age 8 in the musical Really Rosie. She attended high school at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Performing Arts in New York City - the setting for the movie Fame - and began teaching others how to dance in 1983. Rosanne went on to attend The Manhattan School of Music, where she studied voice for 3 years, and continued her education in theater arts at New York University and Pasco-Hernando Community College.

Vavasis moved to Florida, where she raised her family and opened Gotta Dance, in 1999. Over the last 16 years, she's undergone plenty of trials and tribulations, including collapsed discs and a temporary closing of her studio. But she's persevered, training five Grand National Championship teams. Her dancers have also accumulated 10 first-place and six second-place finishes at regional and national competitions. Some students have gone on to receive dance scholarships, release music cds, perform on Broadway and become the head of entertainment at Busch Gardens.

In November of 2014, she moved her studio to a larger facility, only to have a major roof leak that destroyed her floors this past October. Even that didn't stop her from helping youngsters achieve their goals.

Gotta Dance, which goes by Just Gotta Dance on Facebook, now has 120 students enrolled in its classes, but after all of the breaks it gives to its students -- and the bills are paid, it clears just an estimated $150 of profit per week.

''It's not about money,'' Rosanne said, noting that most studios are very clinical and are treated too much like a business focused on cash flow and image. At Gotta Dance, Rosanne and her daughter, Teresamia, take a more personal approach. They hug the kids, talk and listen to them - and play with them - while teaching them the performing arts. They provide individual attention to each child's need, whether the child is coping with Autism, Down Syndrome, Aspergers or just thriving on love and affection.

''We give everyone a moment to shine,'' Rosanne said.

The Contest
After being nominated by several of her students for the 2015 National Dance Instructor of the Year Award, Rosanne said the contest took a life of its own. Her students and colleagues rallied behind and reached out to her, expressing their appreciation for all she has done over the last 30-plus years.

''I heard from kids I haven't had for 15-20 years,'' she said. ''It warmed my heart. It's better than winning any gift. It brings back memories and keeps me motivated to keep going.''

Rosanne lives by a motto made famous by the Beatles ''and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.''

Obviously, her generosity has left a lasting impact on her students and community as she garnered almost a quarter of the nearly 2,200 votes cast in the inaugural year of annual Greatmats National Dance Instructor of the Year Contest.

While catering to the underprivileged probably won't ever make her rich in the monetary form, Rosanne's heart is full knowing she's playing a pivotal role in enriching the lives her students by giving them the chance to succeed in life.
Rosanne Vavasis
Gotta Dance
Hudson FL
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Rosanne Vavasis - 2015 Greatmats National Dance Instructor of the Year
Teresamia and Rosanne Vavasis
Rosanne Vavasis and Gianna Sommerlad