Essence Studios helps gather together the dance community in Poolesville


Sara Shibu, Staff Writer

From Poolesville High student to dance studio owner, Miss Claire Jones expands on her dance journey from learning and performing to taking over Hope Garden Ballet from Fran Ichijo to curate her very own, Essence Studios. 

In September of 2021, Fran Ichijo, the owner of Hope Garden Ballet Academy (HGBA), retired and handed her dance studio over to a lifelong student, Claire Jones. Jones is a 2010 graduate of Poolesville High School (PHS)  and one of Ichijo’s more prominent students since six years old. Jones had danced and performed under Ichijo throughout her academic years, leaving temporarily from the age of eleven to thirteen to train with the Maryland Youth Ballet. She returned to Ichijo and stayed until graduation from high school, continuing her education and graduating UMBC with a degree in dance and a minor in theater. Even though Jones was well versed in all things arts, she didn’t always plan on opening up a dance studio and this opportunity fell into place at the perfect time.

“[Taking over the studio] didn’t come about until two years into my performing career. Ms. Fran had mentioned, very randomly, about taking the place over someday to me when I was guest performing in her Christmas Carol production and at that time I had been teaching some classes for her too when I had the chance,” said Jones.  “I just really love working with the kids and the students and when it happened a year ago, I knew this is what I was supposed to be doing.” 

When it comes to opening up a dance studio, it’s not solely about the dance classes, and the business aspect has to be considered too. However, Jones was able to navigate through a foreign and gray area, through the help of the community offering support. She’s had to learn how to maneuver around things that can’t be anticipated and have to deal with in the moment. 

“The biggest learning curves in my life have come in the last year. The need for communication was very surprising. And logistical stuff, like making sure your permits are all renewed with the county, that side of business I was just not prepared for at all.” said Jones.  “All the businesses support each other. The people support the businesses and you build a rapport with people.” 

As Poolesville is surely an isolated area, Jones expressed that keeping Essence studio flourishing was a convenience for many parents that didn’t want to drive 20-30 minutes out of town just for dance classes, as well as the ones who didn’t want to let go of the close-knit community of Poolesville as the arts aren’t easily accessible in Northwestern Montgomery county. 

“The Fair Access Committee, headed by the commissioners like Jim Brown, really became a parent for returning students and new students enrolled with all of the parents saying that they were so fortunate Essence studios was here,”  said Jones. “I know the face and name of every student that walks through my door and that’s something I don’t want to ever change.” 

Senior Anna Porch, a student intern at Essence Studios, shared some kind words regarding the studio.

“Essence Studios is a dance studio that not only gives wonderful dance training, but it is also an environment that is supportive of their students as people, no matter what their interests are,” said Porch. “Claire has created a place where everyone can pursue their varied dance interests, with many different disciplines and many different interest levels. Every day, I am excited to walk through those studio doors and get to do what I love in an environment that supports me as a dancer, and as a person.”

With all these unexpected details along the way, Jones never lost sight of what the true essence in dance was for her. When she steps into the studio and she’s teaching the kids, everything else melts away. The creation of choreography and teaching in the moment doesn’t compare to any other feeling. This feeling is what she wanted to make clear when choosing the new name for the studio.  

“Dance and movement is for everyone,” said Jones. “Dance is dance. Dancing was part of my essence and essence of who we are. Art forms can teach you so many life lessons aside from first position, dance is essential.”