When Rochelle Irby passed away unexpectedly last fall, she left a huge legacy. As the owner of Irby Dance Studio, she had coached and mentored dozens of dancers. She was a second mother to many, a counselor to some, and one of their biggest fans, encouraging them to give dancing and life their best effort.
Irby started her dance studio in Conway over 50 years ago, teaching thousands of students over the years. Currently instructors at Irby Dance Studio teach third and fourth generation students in four locations—Conway, Little Rock, Morrilton and Searcy. Irby’s daughter, Wendy Jones, is director/owner of the Little Rock location.
Many of Irby’s former students, now with children of their own, wanted to pay tribute to this woman who had such an impact on their lives. That is why they put their tap shoes back on and arranged a tribute to their former teacher at this spring’s annual dance recitals.
Twenty women, all former students from the Irby Dance Studios at Morrilton, Conway and Searcy, were showcased at the recitals in each of those cities. All wore black T-shirts that said, “Ms. Irby’s Girls” on the back. They performed a classic tap routine to “In the Mood,” a Glenn Miller classic from the big band era. Susan Freedle, who directs the Irby Dance Studios at Morrilton and Conway, choreographed the tap dance.
Melanie Wilbourn Church, one of Ms. Irby’s former students who performed with the group, said, “Yes, we did this! Its been a lot of years since I’ve put on my tap shoes! I enjoyed dancing again with these ladies. We share our love for our wonderful teacher and friend. She would be proud of her girls!”
“Hootie,” as she was lovingly called by many, will be sorely missed, especially by her students. She was a special lady who invested greatly in the development of her students, not only as dancers, but also as accomplished and capable adults.
“God broke the mold when He made her,” said Susan Freedle, who began her dance training with Irby at the age of 3. “She was a force to be reckoned with and we were so very blessed to be her students.”