Miss Diane To Take Final Bow At Lathrop’s 67th Stardust Revue
Lathrop School of Dance Director and Owner Diane Wardenburg — known affectionately by many as “Miss Diane” — announced in a letter on April 9 that she will be passing the torch of owner and director to “Miss Tamra” Saric at the end of the 67th Stardust Revue this June.
“It has been my honor and joy to teach the art of dance for some 45 years. What a blessing it has been to be part of so many families, some for generations!” Ms Wardenburg said in her letter addressed to family and friends of the school.
When she was growing up, Ms Wardenburg was innately drawn to dancing through her love of music and desire to be a Rockette. When she danced, she felt complete.
At the age of 3, she was enrolled in the Lathrop School of Dance, and her 60-year journey pursuing her talent and passion began.
During that time, she grew close to her mentors, Mack and Virginia “Ginny” Lathrop, who founded the Lathrop School of Dance. The couple had a successful stage and vaudeville career, performing in top venues all over the world, and opened the school when they made their permanent home in Newtown.
Having much respect for the Lathrops, Ms Wardenburg distinctly remembers the very moment Mrs Lathrop asked her to become a dance teacher.
“When I was 18, I stood backstage — I was getting ready for one of my solos — and Mrs Lathrop said to me, ‘Would you like to teach?’ I said, ‘Oh, sure’ then went home and [enthusiastically] said, ‘Ma, I was asked to teach!’” she recalled with great emphasis.
While Mr Lathrop taught Ms Wardenburg the business side of running the school, Mrs Lathrop focused on teaching her about dance and instilled many valuable life lessons in her.
“Enjoy your life and laugh,” was some of Mrs Lathrop’s advice, Ms Wardenburg said.
Mrs Lathrop was also an advocate for education and to never stop learning.
In addition to accomplishing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Recreation & Community Fitness with a Minor in Dance from Southern Connecticut State University, Ms Wardenburg is a graduate of Dance Educators of America.
When Mr Lathrop passed away in 1984, Ms Wardenburg became Mrs Lathrop’s assistant. The duo worked together until Mrs Lathrop’s death in November 2009, at the age of 94.
Even though Ms Wardenburg was proficiently trained to step into the role of director, she understood the gravity that she had some impressive dance shoes to fill.
“The transition from a teacher to the director at first was scary, because I was taking over for Mrs Lathrop,” she said.
Ms Wardenburg took it in stride, and throughout the last decade not only honored the legacy that Mr and Mrs Lathrop had created, but also excelled at making the Lathrop School of Dance a beloved staple in the community.
The Lathrop School of Dance has continued its annual Stardust Revue and has been part of countless town gatherings like the Labor Day Parade, the Newtown Lions Club’s Great Pootatuck Duck Race, and the Rotary Club’s Pancake Day.
Ms Wardenburg’s biggest joy over the years, she says, has been “to watch the children and adults grow” and see their excitement about getting to dance.
A woman of faith, she explained that her time at Lathrop School of Dance has been a blessing and that she feels it is part of God’s plan for her to start this new chapter of her life.
“After countless hours of rehearsing, teaching, performing, and directing, it is time for a final bow at LSOD,” Ms Wardenburg explained in her letter. “My life has new challenges and opportunities to explore, and I take my bow now to cast myself into some new roles.”
She thanks her husband of 26 years, Joel, who MCs for many events; her son, Caleb; Lathrop’s 35-year business manager, Mary Ann Grogan; and all the parents of students for their phenomenal support. Ms Wardenburg hopes everyone will give Ms Saric the same love and dedication she felt through the years and wishes her successor the very best.
The Next Era
Just like Ms Wardenburg, Newtown resident “Miss Tamra” Saric started at Lathrop School of Dance at the age of 3 and joined the faculty when she was in her senior year of high school.
Ms Saric recalled that even though she was not the most prompt student — always late for class and forgetting her costume — everyone was always patient and encouraging with her.
It was at Lathrop that she not only gained valuable experience honing her craft, but also formed many cherished friendships that continue to this day.
“After being here so long, [we’re] a family,” Ms Saric said.
Ms Wardenburg agrees, adding, “Family is big. Mrs Lathrop instilled that in us.”
Even though Ms Saric had a passion for dance, she did not know it was her path in life until faced with a life without it.
After going to Western Connecticut State University for marketing, she got hired at New York Life Insurance Company and began to understand how important continuing at Lathrop meant to her.
“I realized I’m already where I’m supposed to be,” Ms Saric said. “It all just fell into place.”
At 33 years old, she has been with Lathrop School of Dance for three decades, which allowed her to have spent many cherished moments with the school’s original matriarch. From scooping strawberry ice cream for Mrs Lathrop to celebrating occasions with champagne, Ms Saric appreciated getting to have those special times with her.
Mrs Lathrop was known for her affinity for champagne, and Ms Wardenburg recalled, “When she passed away, we were all sitting around making phone calls and my husband said, ‘Go get some champagne, we need to toast Gin.’”
Upon picking up one of Mrs Lathrop’s unopened champagne bottles, they realized something peculiar — the bottle was only half full, like it had already been sipped from.
“She always said to me, ‘Di, don’t worry, I’ll let you know I’m okay,’” Ms Wardenburg said of her mentor’s sign from above. “She was a very religious person.”
When Mrs Lathrop passed away, the Lathrop School of Dance office moved from her home to the Edmond Town Hall, where it remains today.
While sitting in the office with a box of photos in front of her, Ms Wardenburg said, “Miss Tamra and I have had a ball here.”
The two have worked side-by-side ever since Mrs Lathrop’s passing, with Ms Saric becoming both assistant director and dance team director. She has also received her Advanced Teacher Certification from Dance Educators of America in Level 1 Ballet, Jazz, Modern, and Tap.
While Ms Saric will soon be stepping into the job of director and owner of the Lathrop School of Dance, there is another role she will be taking on this June: motherhood.
Ms Saric and her husband, Marko, are expecting their first child — a baby girl — the same month as the 67th Stardust Revue. She hopes one day her daughter will get to be part of the Lathrop School of Dance legacy.
Looking to the future of the dance school, Ms Saric said, “I’m looking forward to keeping it going, carrying on those traditions, and bringing in some fresh new ideas, too.”
For more information about the Lathrop School of Dance, visit lathropschoolofdance.com or call 203-426-5757. The 67th Stardust Revue is scheduled to take place Saturday, June 1, at 4 and 7 pm, as well as Sunday, June 2, at 1 and 4 pm. Recital tickets are currently for sale at the Edmond Town Hall.
Celebrating Miss Diane Wardenburg
Throughout “Miss Diane” Wardenburg’s years at Lathrop School of Dance, she has been known for her many roles as student, teacher, owner, and director. Above all, she is called a dear friend to many in the community who have met her.
Mary Ann Kayfus Philips says she has known Ms Wardenburg for practically her entire life. After starting at the dance school in 1961, at the age of 3, she went on to dance at Lathrop for 56 years.
“Diane was one of the ‘star babies,’ a group of four girls that I admired from an early age,” Ms Philips said.
The two would later dance together in high school, and as Stardusters, they developed a lasting friendship.
They went to dance conventions and shows during the summer in New York City, attended a summer ballet course at Southern Connecticut University together, and Ms Wardenburg even taught Ms Philips’ three daughters dance.
“I am grateful Diane pursued her dream and continued the school, so that I could continue my passion,” Ms Philips said. “I wish all the best for Diane in her future endeavors… success, good health, and happiness. She deserves it!”
Lathrop School of Dance Office Manager Mary Ann Grogan has been friends with Ms Wardenburg for 50 years now, after attending the same grammar school and church, Immanuel Lutheran, as children.
Some of her fondest memories with Ms Wardenburg have been their time spent together on recital weekends. It is during those early mornings at the studio where Ms Grogan has been able to witness Ms Wardenburg’s desire to always makes sure everything is prepared for faculty and behind-the-scenes crew. She even “relaxes,” Ms Grogan says, by making food for the backstage people, many of whom have been with the dance school for years.
“Like Ginny Lathrop before her, she wants to make sure they are taken care of,” Ms Grogan said.
Those moments, along with her ability to remember every students’ name and what class they are in, has shown Ms Grogan how deeply Ms Wardenburg cares for every member of the Lathrop School of Dance family.
“The lesson that I have learned from her is that everyone matters and that everyone should be treated with respect,” Ms Grogan said.
“What I wish for her in the future,” she added, “is that she will enjoy more of her favorite activities [like] our community theatre group, Immanuel Lutheran Players, playing guitar and singing and other church activities.”
Fellow longtime friend Lynn Lewis began dancing at Lathrop School of Dance 38 years ago, at the age of 8, and currently helps with the school’s recitals.
Over the years, she has always admired how Ms Wardenburg continues prioritize the legacy and traditions Mack and Virginia Lathrop set as founders of the dance school.
“Keeping that going through the years has been her biggest achievement,” Ms Lewis said.
In doing so, Lathrop School of Dance has become a family for so many, including Ms Lewis, that keeps people coming back year after year.
“My wish for her is that she gets to try different things and start the new chapter of her life, wherever that may take her…” Ms Lewis said. “She is such a creative, passionate person, so I’m just excited for her to have the time to [do] things that will make her happy.”
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