When COVID-19 hit, Sam Budzinski feared her passion was wilting away.

The lifelong dancer, who at the time was teaching at Riverfront Performing Arts in Mankato, saw that studio close down and suddenly had nowhere to dance and teach. But several of the students at the center weren’t willing to give it up themselves, and so they turned to Budzinski, and over the last year-plus, she’s been doing virtual lessons.

That time is over, though, as Budzinski, with the help of a few students and their families, has opened River Valley Dance in St. Peter. The studio, inside the Cornerstone Wellness building in St. Peter (at the corner of Minnesota and Broadway avenues), features a hardwood floor, a few TVs, and of course, mirrors all over.

“I’m so excited,” Budzinski said.

One of her students, Katie Dimock, was the first to get a lesson in the new space.

“I love it. I love this studio. This is the first real studio I’ve danced in,” Dimock said. “I was just in a small basement before.”

She added, “(Dancing with Budzinski) was when I first trained in classical, and it was such a good experience. I know people have really difficult experiences with dance, but for me, it was a really positive environment; it was a safe space for us. And then when (Riverfront Performing Arts) was shutting down, Sam really pulled us all together.”

Budzinski is still figuring out the business side of things, but what she definitely has is a love for dance. She started when she was 9 and hasn’t stopped since.

“It was just something that I was able to do,” she said. “It didn’t take time. I didn’t have to think about it. I was able to be shown something and just learn it.”

She added, “My first recital, I got on VHS, and I learned every single dance from the 3-year-olds to the adults. So after that, I just kept getting pushed through to higher levels and through my studio.”

River Valley Dance Studio features three teachers: Budzinski, ballerina Mary Hayes, and youth teacher Miracle Rogers. There are also two older students — Elizabeth Dimock and Katie Cink — taking a class to become instructors.

The studio will not do competition, instead doing two big shows a year — the Holiday Suites in December, which features different variation from the Nutcracker Suite and other Christmas music, and a spring show different each year.

While the virtual classes kept Budzinski and her students dancing through COVID, it feels so good to see some smiling faces.

“Last year, we worked really hard to try to continue the training, but you can only do so much when you can’t actually see the dancer in person, and it felt right to go into the physical realm,” Budzinski said.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8579 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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