By Deborah Bostock-Kelley
With a studio specializing in performing versus the competition, Orlando Pena got into dance instruction for the magical a-hah moment. He left the cold of New York, where he’d taught dance for over 24 years, to find a community in Westchase/Oldsmar in summer 2021.
At Ovations Dance Academy of Tampa, Orlando teaches students three-year-olds and up.
“I started dance when I was 14 years old, and I fell in love with what I was doing and thought that this is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life,” he said. “Seeing the student have their a-hah moment or seeing the shy student come in, their parents not knowing what to do, and I teach them, and we bond and form a mentorship, and we build up their confidence through dance and singing – that’s what it’s all about for me. That’s pretty much what makes me beat.”
When he was younger, Orlando performed with the Windermere Ballet Company in New York City.
“Because I was short, I always had specialty featured spots. I was a great turner and jumper, and I had great extensions and splits, so I was always doing those in ballet and musical theatre.”
Orlando toured with Chorus Line and Music Man and performed in Starlight Express in Germany for sixteen months. After that show ended, he decided to open a studio in New York. He also taught his craft in private and public schools.
“I was one of the only studios on Long Island that had students leave to go on to Broadway and national tours, commercials, or cartoon voiceovers. I think it just rubs off – the love that I have for theatre and for kids to find the spark and confidence to do it themselves.”
For his current roster of 70 students in his Tampa studio, Ovations Dance Academy of Tampa offers ballet, jazz, tap, Broadway tap-style, musical theatre, and hip hop and will be performing in local senior homes and community functions. For adults, Orlando teaches ballet, musical theatre, tap, and jazz.
“It’s important to bring the youth to the seniors. When the seniors see them perform, it takes them back to their happy memory. It’s a way of giving back, but also, as performers, we get to continue to touch people’s lives. For the kids, it’s a great lesson to experience respect, and they get to communicate with an older generation.
“I have a solid ballet background and musical theatre, and that is what I will focus on with the studio. We are currently in rehearsal for Aladdin, Jr., which will be performed in February at the Bayanihan Arts and Events Center and then work on our showcase. Throughout the year, we will continue doing community service.”
Orlando is excited that word is getting out about his prestigious dance academy.
“I don’t do competitions, rather focus on performance, because competitions instill a very competitive and somewhat ugly spin on the arts that I don’t like. With performing, you are in service of sharing a story, a dance, a song, and an emotion. I feel that competition pushes you inward. While you’re trying to put your best foot forward, it’s about you. It’s not about what you’re doing, and delivering is affecting the audience. We’re here to move and touch people’s lives through art, and I just don’t feel that with competing.”
When asked what separates his studio from others in the area, Orlando said it was intuition with his students.
“I’m intuitive with my students, and I know how to make them look good without exposing them by using the cute factor or pushing the envelope to make them look sensual. Kids should not be sensual ever. They have an innocent, pure talent, and I know how to pull that out. I know what to say to them to get the movements, understand the placement of the body, or what they’re feeling to create the step and get from point A to point B. That’s my special gift.”
Orlando gave the example of a little girl who went to voice teacher and dance teacher and cried each time. He met the mom who warned her that her daughter would cry. Orlando asked the mom to wait in the reception area. He told her, “I got this.”
“The little girl ended up being my teacup in Beauty and the Beast on Long Island. A couple of years later, she ended up being on the national tour of The Sound of Music. She did A Christmas Carol, produced a record, and now she’s one of the voiceovers of a cartoon on television,” he said. “You let the kids find their inner voice. The a-hah moment can be when they are going across the floor in tap. They get the step, and everything just comes together. They have a little burst of a smile, the eyes widen, and I get to be there to see it. That makes me teary-eyed every single time. I don’t say anything like ‘great job,’ instead, I let them sit with the moment because it becomes theirs. I give them the material, and they own it. That’s awesome to witness.”
Ovations Dance Academy of Tampa is located at 13847 W Hillsborough Ave, Tampa. Classes are available after school, beginning at 3:30 PM. For more information, visit ovationsdanceoftampa.com or call (813) 749-7001.