Alexandra Mannings was just having fun in the southwest Atlanta dance class her mom enrolled her in when she was three years old.
But, over time, her classes at DanceMakers of Atlanta, at 2282 Cascade Rd., became more than just a hobby.
“As I got older," Mannings said, "it ended up meaning something more than just an after school activity.”
Now the 14-year-old wants to be a professional dancer and choreographer. This month she will be a part of the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker.
Mannings was one of the first students to join DanceMakers, which twins Denise and Lynise Heard opened in 2001.
“They are good teachers. They make sure to give you corrections on your techniques,” said Mannings who recently choreographed her own dance routine for a school function. “The studio gave me a really good foundation that I can build on."
The twins opened the studio to share their love for an art that had brought them freedom and something most people never get to experience—a view of the world.
They were 9-years-old when an older sister took them to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company at the Fox Theater.
“We told our mom we wanted to be able to do that and so she found us a school,” Denise Heard-Latimer said.
For 10 years they studied ballet, jazz and tap in Atlanta before attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
“It’s always something that makes me feel good, makes me feel free,” Denise Heard-Latimer said. “It’s always felt very fun.”
The two moved to New York where they found jobs on Broadway.
“It was always exciting,” Latimer said. But it was a difficult career for both of them. “It’s not stable. You are always looking for work. You’re never going to get rich. It has to be something your passionate about.”
The sisters were there for six years and in that time they lived in New York, Bronx and Brooklyn.
“Life could be discouraging,” Latimer, 47, said. “It was 80 percent rejection. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to know what you want. You’re going to get a lot of ‘Nos’ before you get a ‘Yes.’”
In between dancing jobs, the twins had to work as bartender, waitress and caterer.
“We had to juggle,” Latimer said. “We had to find jobs to keep the rent paid and keep us flexible to audition.”
They took voice lessons, dance classes and practiced about four hours a day to keep in shape and stay healthy.
They found out about auditions through their union office and at the universities. They have performed together in musicals and industrial shows such as “Calypso Carnival” in the Virgin Islands, the “Sophisticated Ladies” European Tour and the Walt Disney World Series Tour. Separately, Denise Latimer has performed on cruise lines and Lynise Heard has done shows such as “Evita,” “No, No Nanette” and “Camelot” with Stacy Keach.
“I enjoyed it for awhile. Then I got tired of going from job to job,” Lynise Heard said.
When they were approaching 30 years old, they returned to Alanta where they have had their biggest accomplishment: DanceMakers of Atlanta, which the sisters said was named one of the top 50 studios in the U.S. by Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazine.
The thought it was going to be a hobby, something they would do on the side while they both worked fulltime jobs.
Their first year, the twins had 30 students. Five years later, the school had grown so big that Heard quit her job to work at the studio full-time as the artistic director. Latimer quit a year later to work as the managing director.
In 2008, they moved the studio, which was 2200 square feet, from Fairburn Road to Cascade Road where the studio is now 6,000 square feet
and big enough to house their 225 students.
They are open six days a week to teach students 3 to 18 years old tap, ballet and jazz. To stay competitive, they have also brought in other instructors to teach acrobatics and Hip Hop.
They have students who were named national champions; students who entered Vegas’ “So You Think You Can Dance” and who performed in the musical “Bring it On” in Los Angeles. They have a male student touring Europe in the “Bad Boys of Dance,” and a few students who received full tuition scholarships to colleges.
They also have two students who now teach at the studio, which put on two shows every year.
“I’m very happy that’s where I started,” Mannings said. So is her mother Carla Mannings who found out about the studio a year before they opened.
"They are very demanding," the older Mannings said. "What I love about them is that they taught her the right way to do everything so now she can compete on any level."