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Old steps, new dance
Young women’s studio teaches fancy footwork
JEN 4645
Sarah Darby directs Karley Thurmond, right, and Sarah Clanton, left, through their dance moves Tuesday at her studio in Cumming. - photo by Jennifer Sami

There's a whole lot of noise coming from an unmarked building nestled between a fitness center and embroidery shop in Cumming.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, Sole Impulse dance studio opens its doors to one of the loudest and fastest styles of dance.

"Clogging has that horrible stigma about hoedowns, crinoline skirts and wooden shoes," said studio owner Sarah Darby. "We are really trying to break that stereotype. Clogging is definitely not like that anymore."

Between dancing to top 40 music, incorporating hip-hop movement and modern costumes, Darby's style of clogging is anything but traditional.

With the help of co-owners Beth Petrunich and Cara Petrunich, the studio offers clogging, hip-hop, Irish step, jazz and even yoga classes.

Of the three women, Beth Petrunich is the oldest, at 23. But what they lack in age, they make up for in experience, said Darby, 21.

"I taught my first lesson when I was 12," she said. "We're really young, but between the three of us, we have 40 years of clogging experience."

The  trio met in competition when they were about 8. While they grew up competing against each other, they started competing on the same team a few years ago.

"The three of us would commute out to Alabama together once a month for practice and we just became really good friends," Darby said.

"We all have the same goals and visions and same work ethic and style. We've all dreamed about owning a studio since we were 10 years old."

Darby opened a studio in Dawsonville in 2006. Because the majority of her students were commuting from Forsyth County,  however, she relocated to Cumming and opened Sole Impulse in July.

She juggles teaching, training competition teams and choreographing dances while working toward her December graduation from the University of Georgia.

Owning a studio was always a dream, just one she thought would come after earning her degree in social studies education.

"I had an entire group of parents, about 40 to 50 people coming to me and asking, "Will you please open a studio?'" said Darby, who commutes from Athens to Cumming and Dawsonville three times a week. "The timing was just right."

"I have had to sacrifice some things at school. I wanted to join a couple of clubs and play some intramural sports, but I had to make the sacrifices. And it's been worth it because I have so much more to show for it."

Darby's background has prepared her for what her students need to succeed.  An 11-time medalist in Junior Olympics, she also is a former Teen Miss American Clogger, Miss American Clogger and a member of a national champion clogging team from Lilburn.

Parents recognize her experience and her ability to make clogging fun and easy for children of any age to learn.

Missy Clanton's daughter began taking lessons from Darby through other studios.
But, Clanton said, "When Sarah started going out on her own, we went with her. There was no question about it.

"She's one of the few girls that I know of at her age that, first of all, own their own business, have gone off to college and continue to do something that she loves. She's smart, she's talented, she's amazing. She has an outstanding ability to connect with kids."

Clanton could have chosen any style of dance for her daughter, but chose clogging because it was so different from all the other styles.

"When we go to a dance competition, you see tap ballet, lyrical jazz over and over and over again," she said. "Then a clogging routine comes up there and then everybody stops to watch because it is out of the norm."

It was the unique speed and style of clogging that first attracted Darby. She tried ballet, dabbled in jazz and even started taking hip-hop lessons.

When she was 6, though, she saw a newspaper article about a Gainesville clogging teacher and decided to give it a try.

"The thing with clogging that hooked me was it's so much faster and so much more aggressive than any other kind of dance," she said.

"It's also fun to watch and it's so fast-paced that kids really enjoy it. I cannot get enough of it."