By MICHELLE BEAHM
Erin Brinkerhoff and Kara Morkert opened the Gallery School for Music and Dance almost 20 years ago in downtown Port Orchard.
The sisters started the studio where they’d learned how to dance as children in 1994 after discovering that the building was up for lease.
“She had just graduated from college, I was up in Alaska, and we were just, you know, at that place where you begin,” Brinkerhoff said. “We saw our old dance studio, that was for lease, and so we talked about it, and with everything that was closing, it was very obvious what we were supposed to do, so we opened the Gallery in our old dance studio.”
In the years that they have owned the Gallery, they have expanded from a simple studio, and now the Gallery includes a gymnasium, a martial arts center, a music store, art and more. They even had another branch in Silverdale, but that was recently closed.
“We have closed our Silverdale studio and a lot of those students have come over to Port Orchard,” Brinkerhoff said. “The kids just couldn’t let it go and that’s just, you know, it’s really fun because it is a lifetime. It’s not one of those places where you come in, swipe your card, and get what you want and leave, it’s, it’s been a major investment of time and talents and everybody’s fantastic energy and goodwill.”
In the time that they’ve opened, Brinkerhoff, Morkert and some of their students have traveled all over to dance. They’ve been on trips to Hawaii, Disneyland and twice to Europe.
One trip abroad was for Young! Tanzsommer, a dance festival in Austria. The jazz company from the Gallery was recruited, one of five in the country, for this festival.
“When you are on a performance tour, it’s very different than a competitive audience,” Brinkerhoff said. “It’s not your grandma, it’s not your mom, it’s not your aunts and uncles. It’s people that have come to see your show. It’s good for them, it’s good for us, it’s good for everybody. That audience will change your life.”
Brinkerhoff went on to explain that the reason they went on these tours was for the sake of their student’s love of dancing.
“You have to commit, you have to give them the opportunity to really stretch their wings, and that gives them the confidence to say I’m going to stick with the arts, I’m going to do this, this is going to be my life,” she said. “And we have had such fantastic success with keeping the arts alive and in their adult life.”
Now more change is happening at the Gallery. Brinkerhoff and Morkert are selling the studio to former students Kim Smith and Erynn Bosch.
Although the Gallery will remain within the “family,” the change is not taken lightly by anyone involved.
“I think we all seem very happy and distracted,” said Smith, one of the new owners of the Gallery. “If we actually let ourselves feel all those emotions right now we wouldn’t get anything done.”
The final performance the Gallery had with Brinkerhoff and Morkert as owners was on Saturday, June 29, and in the days leading up to it, they and the new owners kept themselves busy with preparation for the show so they wouldn’t have to dwell on the upcoming changes.
Both Brinkerhoff and Morkert said they wouldn’t have been able to sell the studio if it had been anybody else buying it, other than Smith and Bosch.
“We need family time,” said Brinkerhoff of her and her sister. “I need to work, she needs to work, and have nights off, and that is going to be good for our family, and we both have opportunities to do that.”
“But why I want the gallery sold to them is because they have that certain something inside that the Gallery deserves. It deserves all the good days that they have ahead of them to create, and sweat, and to take it in the direction they’ve always wanted to take it in. Kara and I, we’ve done it. We have done it. So anything for us would be doing it again, and there’s nothing better than the first time, and they deserve a chance. And I want to help them.”
Brinkerhoff has plans to stay on the staff for the next year after the ownership changes hands, to help Smith and Bosch in their new roles.
Morkert also is glad that her former students are buying the studio, because she says she knows that the core values of the Gallery will remain the same.
“It’s just a community that has needed a place for families and children to belong and that’s why, I think, it was given to us, and that’s why they (Smith and Bosch) believe in it, and want to continue on, because they grew up in it,” Morkert said.
After Smith and Bosch take over, the sisters plan to make more time for their family. Brinkerhoff intends to work on her mother Jan Angel’s campaign for Senate. Neither plan to leave the Gallery entirely, though.
“Change is already happening, they’ve already been on board, and now when we switch over, we’re going to be with them to take and go through show time, go through the year, go through the seasons, go through all of it just kind of passing the torch every day,” Brinkerhoff said.