When she was 8 years old, Shannon Barnhart told her mother that she wanted to be a dance teacher.
She got her wish.
This month, the Shannon Barnhart Dance Studio at 5026 Leavenworth St. celebrates its 40th anniversary. It opened just after Labor Day in 1973, when she was a brand-new graduate of Benson High School.
Shannon Barnhart Vosberg, 58, estimates that she and her staff have taught more than 12,000 students at the studio, which has always been within a stone's throw of its present address.
“I love kids,” Barnhart Vosberg said. “I hope I've had a positive impact on them. I feel very blessed to have gotten to do what I love.”
Shannon was just 5 when she started taking private tap lessons from Martha Randall. Randall had performed on the old vaudeville circuit, dancing with actress Irene Ryan (who later played Granny on “The Beverly Hillbillies”).
Later, Barnhart Vosberg took classes at Jean Stone Dance Studio near Saddle Creek Road and 50th Street. Gradually, she became a teaching assistant at Stone's studio. Stone took her to conventions and dance workshops in Des Moines, Kansas City and New York City.
She performed in Show Wagon talent competitions, musical theater at Benson High School, in the Omaha Public Schools summer musical, in “A Christmas Carol” and “Fascinating Rhythms” at the Omaha Community Playhouse, and in preshow revues at the old Talk of the Town dinner theater in Omaha. She also taught tap at the Playhouse.
After 13 years of lessons and performing, her parents helped her find a tiny 400-square-foot space to open her school, which began with 23 students. Tap was her specialty, but she also taught ballet and jazz. She hired a second teacher, Cathy Barnes, in 1982 when her first daughter was born, and Barnes has been with her ever since.
The school moved across the street in 1989 and back in 1993, each time doubling in size. Enrollment peaked at 340 students before the recent recession.
Now, with a staff of eight teachers and a student roster of 240, Barnhart Vosberg personally teaches 12 one-hour classes a week. She often travels to take students to workshops and competitions, and to judge dance competitions herself.
Among her students have been Micaela Johnson, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and Miss Nebraska; Mary Wolff, who is dancing professionally in New York City; and Sebastian West, who went on to the Nebraska Dance studio and the Alvin Ailey dance company in New York.
Three of her students have opened their own teaching studios: Susan Carroll, Carrie Jirka and Gennean Scott. Two of her daughters, Jessica Roxburgh and Elisabeth Vosberg, work with Shannon at the dance studio, teaching and running the office. An older daughter, Natalie Roxburgh, teaches literature at the University of Oldenburg in Germany.
On June 8 and 9, the Shannon Barnhart Dance Studio held its 40th annual recital at Shannon's alma mater, Benson High School. Nine former students who returned for the celebration performed a special alumni dance.
Shannon said she's indebted to Jean Stone and her daughter, Valerie, for mentoring her. And she has no plans to do anything different.
“As long as these old feet keep tapping, I'll keep teaching,” she said. “I'm in relatively good shape — for my age.”