BATH — Dance instructor Fay Pye, 79, said the day she removed the dozens of photos of her students from the walls of her dance studio on Oak Street in Bath was the saddest of her life.
The unique space was Pye’s home for 65 years until last month when she sold it.
“The hardest thing I had to do was take down the pictures of my students and walk away knowing it’s not mine anymore,” said Pye. “I spent all my time there and it was the most important thing to me. My studio and my students are my life.”
After teaching for decades and being a second mother, friend and confidant to thousands of students, Pye said she had been considering selling the studio for two years. The COVID-19 pandemic, which reached Maine in March, haled dance classes and Pye’s income.
“There was no money coming in and without that I couldn’t pay my bills,” said Pye. “It was devastating. To me, it has been a lost year because all the days seem the same because I’m not able to be around everyone and dance.”
Tim Folland and Poppy Hiser purchased Pye’s studio with plans to renovate it, but have it remain a dance studio and center for the arts.
“My husband and I have a background in the arts and we want to continue the tradition of the arts in Fay’s studio,” said Hiser. “It’s a beautiful community space that has a long history in Bath and a lot of people have incredibly positive memories there.”
Pye said knowing her studio will remain full of music and dance is comforting because “they see what I saw in that building.”
However, she said she wouldn’t return to teach the occasional class because “to teach there and have it not be mine would be too much.”
She said she plans to rent a space in the Bath Senior Center to teach two groups of her “kids,” ranging in age from 40 to 74-years-old, who have been with her for decades.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if Fay ever stops teaching,” said Tammy Huntley, who was Pye’s student but later became her assistant. “She’s not ready to give up yet.”
Although Pye no longer owns the dance studio, Shelby Chamberland, who started taking dance lessons with Pye when she was 18 months old, said she’s glad it will remain a dance studio where future generations of Bath children can learn to dance, just as she and so many others did.
“Nothing but good things can happen in that building,” Chamberland said. “It’s full of laughter, sweat, a few tears and a lot of joy.”
Pye’s students described the studio, with its ivy-covered exterior, candy stripe walls and worn ballet bar as a second home. Although it’s empty now they can still hear the plunking of the piano keys and remember the distinct smell of the floor wax.
With nothing but her passion for dance, talent for teaching and her contagious laugh, Pye has made herself a living landmark.
She started dancing when she was two years old and her dance instructor let her teach her first dance class when she was 10.
“I knew what I wanted to do when I was seven years old and I used to cry in dance class because my teacher wouldn’t let me teach class,” said Pye. “I used to say to my teacher ‘I know I can teach if you’d let me.’”
At the age of 14, Pye’s instructor passed the studio on to her, a day she remembers as the happiest in her life.
“At the time I had 35 students, but in 5 years I built it up to 300 students,” she said.
Since that time she has taught over 7,500 students but doesn’t know the exact number because “I stopped counting after 50 years of teaching, and that was 15 years ago.”
She taught her students tap, ballet, jazz and acrobatic dance, but has since stopped teaching acrobatic dance because “I don’t think that would go as well as it did when I was 30,” she said.
Students who have taken classes from Pye for decades describe her as a patient and kind teacher who always made classes fun.
“I remember one year we did a pageant in Miami, and Fay had told us to come to her hotel room and help her pick out an outfit for a date,” said Huntley. “She had us all believing she was going to wear this mini skirt and we said ‘oh no, you’re not going on a date with someone we’ve never met.’”
“Fay is a hot ticket and always has been, that’s the perfect definition of her,” said Chamberland. “There’s always a sparkle in her eye and a snap to her step.”
Chamberland moved away during college and the years after, but later returned to Bath and resumed taking Pye’s classes. She said learning from other dance instructors made her realize how Pye teaches with positive feedback rather than criticizing a student’s mistakes, a sometimes difficult quality to find in a dance teacher.
“Dance is not a blue ribbon thing, you’re always fixing things and working on getting better, but she was always encouraging,” she said. “You go through a lot with dance. You walk in wearing next to nothing and you jump around for as long as you can stand it, but Fay always made it a positive experience.”
“Fay is the nicest lady around; I’ve never heard her yell or swear,” said Huntley, who described her transition from student to assistant as smooth because “We’re like family.”
“I’ve always called Fay my second mom,” she added. “She never married or had any kids of her own, so her students were her kids,” said Huntley.