Edwin Cabaniss is reinventing the old Kessler Theater on Davis as a gallery space, performance venue, and retail and office center. But his wife Lisa’s dance studio is the catalyst for the whole project. Lisa Cabaniss started teaching dance to children in Oak Cliff about 10 years ago, at the request of neighborhood mothers. Demand was so great for dance instruction that she created a small studio that has evolved into SOTE, Studios on the Edge, in a leased space on Edgefield. The business outgrew that building, and now she’s getting the studio of her dreams. It’s expected to open this fall.
You’re renovating a theater built in 1942, and it has been vacant for decades. Why are you doing it?
We have been looking for the ideal space for 10 years. And we would drive by this place all the time, and we would always kind of wonder if we could do something with it. So we had been keeping our eyes on it for a while. We loved our studio on Edgefield, but we just outgrew it.
What is your vision for SOTE at the Kessler Theater?
It’s been my vision to bring all of the performing arts to the kids. With this space, I can offer tumbling, voice lessons, music lessons, acting. I can teach classes for adults and have it all under one roof. And then, on the weekends, it turns into a performance venue. So it really includes the whole community.
When did you start dancing?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dance. I had an injury when I was in high school, so I never got to dance professionally, but the love of dance never went away. I actually went into the fashion business, which is what brought me to Dallas. But I always kept dancing. And I did intense training with the Dance Masters of America program at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The program taught me how to teach dance. You learn how to teach everything properly from the beginning so that you don’t have to go back and fix bad habits, and you don’t have as many injuries.
You had 18 students on your first day in business, and now you have more than 100 students from 3-year-olds to 12th graders. Why do you think it has been so successful?
In addition to there being a real need in our area for art education, we really try to recognize each child and bring out their passions. You know, they put themselves on the line going out there to perform for the public. But what they walk away with is self-confidence and self esteem. That carries over to the classroom and the boardroom and wherever life takes them. They know that if they are prepared, they can do anything
Why are you so passionate about teaching?
The children! I get to really watch these kids grow up. I see them come in as babies and go out as confident, young adults. Getting to know them so well, I can tell their moods as soon as I see them. I know when to push them hard and when to start off with a lot of stretching and let them kind of work into it. I have one student who started with me when she was young, has graduated from high school, and I am pleased that she is now my assistant. Also, we have 4-year-old twin girls, and they just had their debut with the spring performance at the Texas Theater, so the love for the arts is being passed on to the next generation.