By Maya Page
Among the many stores on Cedar Lane in Teaneck, NJ., there lives a hidden gem. Dance Art Creative Center is right down the street from FDU, and although it is easy to miss, it is impossible to forget.
Dance Art Creative Center is owned by Andreia and Jeff Keller, two artists who greet everyone who enters there business with love and warmth. Mr. and Mrs. Keller are so genuine and inviting, they make anyone who opens their doors feel welcome. Over the course of a very candid and expressive discussion with Mrs. Keller, an interview about a dance studio turned into much more than anticipated. It became a beautiful story about love and passion.
Andreia Keller was born and raised in Brazil and lived a very full and successful life as a dancer. She began dancing at the age of six and knew that was her one true love and what she wanted to do forever. She began her career at age 17, landing a job at the largest organization for sports in Brazil. She continued to work there for 16 years, as head of the dance department and creating award-winning choreography.
Jeff Keller is one of the original cast members of “Phantom of the Opera” and the first American to play The Phantom on Broadway. He had a successful career preforming in multiple plays on and off Broadway. On Oct.10, 1998, he married the ballerina Andreia Romana Simm in Brazil, with their wedding being broadcast on live television.
“I came to this country for love. I had the best career ever, 16 years at the same place, I built a great salary, I was rich. I met my husband and I fell in love and I left everything,” Mrs. Keller said, “I left my family, I left my amazing job, I left my career, I left my beautiful country, I left the beach and great weather, and the most amazing food, and I would leave everything again for the life I have and for this marriage that I have that is beautiful.”
Creating the studio was a dream of theirs and they were able to join all their passions into one creative nest where they can be free to do whatever they want and teach the way they want.
“One of my philosophies here at this studio is, yes, we teach dance, we teach art, we teach voice, we teach acting, but if a child leaves this studio and didn’t become a Broadway star, but because they were here they become a better person, that’s what I care about. I am much more like, if she totally passed an audition for Broadway, but she is a rotten person, I feel failure, because I didn’t do the job I want to do. But if she didn’t get the job on Broadway, and is a great person, then I am a winner,” Mrs. Keller said.
The Keller’s believe in art. They believe feeding your soul and becoming a better person on the inside is what matters most in the world, above money and all else. For University students, the line between passion and a successful career often gets blurred.
“Sometimes, we must choose when we are young a profession that will support us in our life, but I am a believer that whether you are a doctor or a lawyer, it doesn’t matter your salary or if you have a BMW, you cannot even enjoy that if you are miserable,” Mrs. Keller said, “In the arts, I think it’s something that every human being should get a little grasp in their corner, even as a pastime or for relaxation, just to do a painting. You can make money with your passion, but art feeds your soul. If you are very passionate about medical school, but you have a lot of stress because you have tests and studying, if you do some art on the side you will see how this improves you.”
The studio that the Keller’s have built for themselves is simply stunning. The colors, the lights, the tiny details, everything just makes you feel like you are walking through a cathedral of art. When entering the door, there is a beautiful painting of the Starry Night done by Mrs. Keller, with moon and star lights, couches, and ballerina tutus hanging from the ceiling.
As you walk through the studio, it is a never-ending maze of wonder. One room, from the walls to the ceiling is made of tulle, so you are standing under a tutu canopy. Downstairs, Mr. Keller has a whole recording studio and sound booth for his students, and Mrs. Keller has an entire kitchen for her baking. Upstairs, along with the dance studios, they have a café where Mrs. Keller sells treats to students that she makes herself.
Together, they have created this amazing space for students to grow and develop themselves not only as dancers or painters but as human beings. But it does not come without difficulty.
“One of the things that is our dilemma is we try to be very artistic and focus on actually the love for the art. We also have stellar rent, electrical bills, and that is our dilemma because we need support from our town. This is our community, and lately I feel we don’t have the support of the town. It’s all about business and nobody cares about each other,” Mrs. Keller said.
At one point, their highest student enrollment was 275. However, it has dropped significantly within the past couple years and currently they are down to 130. Mrs. Keller says the reason for this drop may be a result of the lack of support from the community. They repeat that they are not business people, they are simply artists. They want to focus on good things that can create relationships within the community
The couple prides themselves on the great influence they have on their students, and that is what drives them to continue their teaching.
“It is stressful because we are exhausted physically and then you are stressed financially and we’re like why are we doing this and at the end of the day it’s because we feel like we help the community,” said Mrs. Keller. “We help with kids that have ADD, kids that are suicidal, kids that have many problems. But because they are here, their life becomes better. They start to love themselves better. We have disabled kids that other dance studios will not even let them be on the stage. That’s our philosophy, to help. Because of art, we become the people that we are.”