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Dance instructor draws on her past to inspire students

HUDSON

The 1979 movie Rocky II features an iconic training scene, one in which boxer Rocky Balboa, flanked by a group of children, runs through the streets of Philadelphia.

One of those kids was Rosanne Abamonte, a 13-year-old New York native who began singing and dancing as a toddler and appeared at age 8 in the Broadway musical Really Rosie.

"My mom told me I was the most dramatic 2-year-old ever," she said.

Yet, when presented with the opportunity to appear as an extra in a major motion picture, she faced a challenge. Told by casting agents that she appeared too old and was too tall to run with the other kids, she responded by exclaiming, "Come on!"

Rocky star Sylvester Stallone took notice.

"He asked me, 'Are you Italian? Do you wanna run?' " she said. "When I said yes, he told the casting agents, 'She's a fighter. Let her run.'"

The little fighter grew up to become Rosanne Vavasis, a dance and drama instructor who has taught the performing arts since 1983. After marrying Air Force officer Jerry Vavasis, she relocated to New Port Richey and now owns Just Gotta Dance studio in Hudson.

Vavasis draws her knowledge from extensive dramatic training at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City (the setting for the film Fame), the Manhattan School of Music and as a theater arts major at New York University. She also has attended Pasco-Hernando Community College.

In addition to Really Rosie, she has appeared in productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie and others. And she performed as a part of children's music revues with acts such as Tony Orlando and Dawn and David Cassidy.

She draws her inspiration from the Rocky-style ambition to help every student succeed. She welcomes students of all ages, appearances, income levels and experience at Just Gotta Dance.

"My prices are insanely low, and the only qualification is that they have a passion and they want to learn," she said. "If they're shy and insecure, I go out of my way to give them a solo. Everybody gets their moment here."

Vavasis and her daughter, Teresa Vavasis, teach all of the classes — tap, ballet, hip-hop, musical theater, tumbling, gymnastics, voice, acting and drama. They also teach at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex.

Vavasis was named 2015 National Dance Instructor of the Year by Greatmats, a Wisconsin-based national dance and specialty flooring company. Her students agree that the teacher they know as Miss Ro is truly one of a kind.

Emma Siebert, 13, was born with no peripheral vision in one eye. Nevertheless, she went on to learn to dance, through eight years of tutelage at Just Gotta Dance.

"Miss Ro helps me excel," said Emma. "She always makes sure that I never fall over or misstep. She makes sure that I'm comfortable, and she has taught me to dance."

Marisa D'Auria, 12, has been dancing since her aunt bought her tap shoes at the tender age of 3. In her eight years at Just Gotta Dance, she has learned far more.

"Miss Ro has taught me to be confident," she said, "to never hold myself back when I dance."

Katelynn Johnson, 17, praises the "family type of atmosphere" at Just Gotta Dance. And Elyse Johnson, 8, calls her teacher "fun and funny."

"Miss Ro has inspired me to tap and dance more," said Rebecca Yates, 16.

"When I am having a bad day at school," said Mia Berstresser, 13, "Miss Ro cheers us up."

Said Marie King, 11: "She inspires me to follow my dreams."

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