With a maiden name like “Coupé”—in ballet, a movement done on the upbeat to prepare for the step that follows—it’s fitting that Diane Frankel has dedicated her life to the stage. The England-born and trained founder of the fifty-three-year-old, 585 student-based Coupé Theatre Studio in Nanuet, New York hails from a long line of dancers, all the way back to her great-grandfather, who taught social dance in the 1800s.
Frankel herself enjoyed a successful career on Broadway, performing in ten different shows throughout the 1960s. But when she and her husband moved to Rockland County in 1970, he encouraged her to embark on a new adventure—opening her own dance school in the basement of her home.
“My husband put in a mirror and barre, and I put up a notice at the local church,” Frankel explained. “A fourteen-year-old girl named Patricia Kremen came to the basement. She’d never danced but she was an absolute natural. It was amazing.”
Kremen, who went on to be a professional modern dancer, may have been Frankel’s first student but was certainly not her last. Word of Frankel’s school spread quickly, leaving the instructor with 49 students crowded into her basement. Knowing she needed a bigger venue to train the dancers effectively, Frankel moved her school around to some local churches, eventually settling in a more permanent space on Route 59 in 1979. This served as Coupé’s home base until 2015, when the ever-growing number of students prompted Frankel to move the school to its current location.
Today, Coupé Theatre Studio is a bustling center for the arts, hosting 585 students from the age of three to retirees. Running six days a week Monday through Saturday, students train in one of the school’s seven studios and have the ability to take a wide range of classes under 16 teachers, including ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, voice, acting and more.
Additionally, Coupé offers a class called Rhythm Works Integrative Dance for students with special needs. Performances for most classes take place at a year-end recital in June, with additional opportunities available with Rockland Competitive Dance and the Rockland Youth Dance Ensemble.
Some students train at Coupé with the intention of becoming industry professionals, taking over ten hours of classes per week to develop into versatile performers. Several have gone on to successful careers on Broadway (including Frankel’s own daughter Jen Bullock, performing name Frankel), Julliard and other prestigious dance companies. They have performed all over the country and even around the world.
Other students take classes purely for the fun and satisfaction of learning a new skill.
Alison Lister, Coupé’s Associate Artistic Director and Frankel’s daughter-in-law, emphasizes that the studio strives to provide the same high quality, holistic manner of instruction to everyone, allowing each student to shine.
“We try to be a studio where if you want to come in once a week and take any class, you can take an hour and enjoy dance for what it is,” Lister said. “Then we also offer pre-professional training where we will sit with a student and say, ‘You have the potential to be a dancer or an actress or a musical theatre person. These are the classes that we feel you should take in order to get the most experience out of the school.’ We try to offer all these different sort of packets or alleyways for kids to pursue what they want.”
Though Frankel has not taught at Coupé for the last few years due to health problems and is currently recuperating in North Carolina with family, she remains highly involved in the goings-on of the school and plans to return for the school’s 51st production of the Nutcracker this December at Rockland Community College. When asked about her favorite part of having taught at Coupé, her eyes twinkled.
“Dealing and working with students,” she said. “From the little ones that are funny and fun to the older ones. I enjoy seeing them progress. I got a letter from one of the students who graduated this past year, and she said the years she spent at Coupé were the happiest of her life. That’s what it’s about. I want them to enjoy dance, to enjoy the arts. It gives them something special and certainly has given me something special all my life.”
Coupe Theatre Studio can be found at 43 Market Street, Nanuet, NY 10954. For additional information on the Rockland Youth Dance Ensemble’s performance of The Nutcracker at Rockland Community College from Friday, December 8 to Sunday, December 10, call 845-623-2808 or email [email protected]. Tickets start at $28 and can be found at https://www.showtix4u.com/#ticketing.