In 1955, Baraboo Wisconsin tire store owner, Tony Canepa, tap-danced at the Sauk County fair as the “Mystery Merchant”, and the Canepa School of Dance was born. Both Tony and his wife Alberta had extensive training in dance and theater, but had pursued other careers. In 1955, however, the demand for dancing instruction caused by a fun performance at the county fair led them back to their passion for dancing.
Through the years the Canepa School of Dance not only taught over 3,500 young people tap and ballet dancing, but Tony and Albert also taught social skills and introduced many adults to the joy of ballroom dancing. In addition to the School, the Canepas hosted a weekly television show, formed a “dance club” and performed all around the Wisconsin area.
Canepa School of Dance and the Dancing Canepa Family accept the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award, from Easter Seals Director of Camp Operations, Ken Saville" Pictured from left to right, Chris Canepa, Jane Canepa, Bertie Canepa Reifsteck, current owner and director of Canepa School of Dance, Ken Saville, and Tom Canepa. By 1955, the Canepas had 8 children with 3 more to come. All the children were students at the school and frequent performers. Tony and Alberta sincerely hoped that dancing would be an enrichment of their children’s lives rather than a profession for them. More importantly Alberta said, “Dancing has given our children many opportunities that are hard to come by when you are one of eleven children in a family. She continued, equally important is that they have been given an identity through dancing. They are recognized as a dancing Canepa rather than being known as “all those kids!”
Also, by 1955, the polio epidemic had hit Baraboo. The Canepa children were spared. In gratitude, the Canepas began a dedication to the Easter Seal Society that continues today. Each year the Canepa School of Dance raises funds that are donated to Camp Wawbeek in Wisconsin and Rocky Mountain Handi-Camp in Colorado.
With 11 children, it was inevitable that at least one would continue the family tradition. The middle child, Alberta Jr. (Bertie), was born to dance. By 5th grade, Bertie was studying at the Madison School of Ballet and working as an assistant teacher. At age 14 she was invited to move to New York to join the junior ranks of the New York City Ballet Company.
Bertie, however, was aware that professional companies require that their lead dancers generally be at least 5’6” tall. Since she was only 5’1”, she decided to remain in Wisconsin. She continued studying dancing while in college, started her own dance school and with her sister Jane was a member of the Chicago Bears first Cheerleading/Dance team.
Bertie entered corporate life after college, but soon gave it up and moved to Colorado for the winters. During the summers she returned to Wisconsin to teach, choreograph and help her mother with the Canepa School of Dance. In 1982 Bertie opened a branch of Canepa School of Dance in Kremmling, Colorado. About the same time, her mother retired from the school in Wisconsin, and it continued to exist only informally. In 1989, however, Bertie reopened the Wisconsin branch, which has since grown to around 300 students. In 2004, Bertie added to her Colorado work by adding a studio in Granby. 2006 saw the start of a new program in Grand Lake Colorado, and the opening of a year-round studio in Lake Delton, Wisconsin.
Bertie not only manages all of the Canepa Schools of Dance, she also teaches, choreographs, trains her teaching staff, and stages productions.
For more information about Bertie click on the “About Us” tab.