Ten years ago, Casey Castellaw Sinclair graduated with a business degree from Texas A&M and headed back to Dallas in search of a cubicle job. But the former Highland Park Belle and summertime dance teacher was hesitant about jumping into the corporate world.
“I had always loved teaching and loved staying connected to dance, but really felt like there was no way I could make that a profession,” she said.
Upon her return, Sinclair’s parents offered to help her start a studio that would cater to girls who wanted to earn spots on the Belles drill team. They gave her a year to see if Highland Park Dance Company [HPDC] had legs.
“It ended up being a lot more successful than I ever thought it could be. There are lots of studios in the area that train drill team, but they also do other things. Ours started out really specific to the Belles style,” she said.
Dance and drill team played a large role in Sinclair’s life. She believes the work ethic and sense of personal responsibility she developed as a Belle made her who she is today. Similarly, she hopes the guidance offered at HPDC can teach her students about more than just dance.
“In this community, these kids are just craving teachers and coaches and parents who are willing to lead by example and demonstrate the qualities that they want to see come out of these kids,” she said.
Kathleen Kilpatrick, 19, is a freshman at Baylor University who learned a lot from Sinclair’s example. A dancer since she was 3 years old, Kilpatrick had never encountered drill dancing until attending HPDC. She liked the staff and classes so much she ended up working for them in high school.
“I think the most special thing about the studio is that they have core Christian values that they implement. They have an actual relationship with each dancer and really care about their lives. It’s not only about dance to them,” Kilpatrick said.
Taylor Foster, a graduate student at Baylor and former Belle lieutenant, studied under Sinclair before she started the studio. The pair would meet up for lessons in church basements, neighborhood backhouses, and Sinclair’s parents’ living room.
“When I started taking with Casey I was in sixth or seventh grade,” Foster said. “I was terrible. We would spend a whole hour on how to do a snake or something. But she never got impatient with me. She never got frustrated.”
Foster, who made the Highland Belles three years in a row, admires HPDC for encouraging its students.
“The entire studio has such an uplifting attitude. It’s really important that the students know that their strength comes from God and that if they can’t do a trick or something, there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re just not ready yet,” Foster said.
HPDC now provides a variety of dance style classes taught by eight instructors, with students ranging from 6 to 18 years old. According to Sinclair, the studio has started incorporating different styles of dance into its drill team training, and has made strides to promote good nutrition and positive body image for the dancers.
Moving forward, Sinclair plans to increase those efforts and to continue instilling godly values in the dancers by finding young teachers who share her passion.
“Kids that I’ve taught that have … graduated, gone to college, that I’ve run into, have made it a point to say, ‘Casey, my time at your studio changed me and made me into the person that I am.’ That, to me, is one of the greatest things that could come out of all of this,” she said.