Back in the mid-80s, when Patty Jensen was looking to lease space for her growing dance business, she was met with a great deal of resistance. Having run classes out of her home for several years, Patty felt she was ready to transition into something else.
She had her sights set on some properties in Milpitas. However, property owners were looking at her sideways, not believing that her dance studio could turn enough of a profit for Patty to keep up with the rent.
Add to that the fact that Patty was a woman entrepreneur, which was not incredibly common at the time, and the chips seemed stacked against her.
It wasn’t until she crossed paths with a gentleman who owned a large space that had just been built on Milpitas Boulevard that things changed:
“This is against everything I know business-wise,” the man told Patty after hearing about her plans for the space. “But this community needs this. So I’m going to say yes.”
That was about 35 years ago. And for 35 years, Patty has continued to operate out of the very same studio, while every other building next to her has changed hands multiple times.
“We’re the first ones to occupy the space,” said Patty. “It was built for me. So it tells you you shouldn’t listen when people say you can’t do something.”
This year, the Jensen School for the Performing Arts (JPA) hit its 40th anniversary. In celebration, in July, 150 people from the studio will be going on a cruise to Mexico.
JPA, which contains offices and 5 studios, is in a constant state of motion. Music echoes against the walls. Dancers of all ages weave in and out of rooms and hallways. Studio spaces spill out raw, tangible energy.
At present, the school offer 100 classes, 6 days a week. Babies can begin taking classes pretty much as soon as they start walking, and if they’re so inclined, they can keep dancing at the school all the way into adulthood. Patty mentioned that the school has students in their 70s dancing there.
Patty’s instructor staff consists of 12 teachers. Add in the support staff, and she has 19 total on her team.
One of the teachers is actually Patty’s sister, Tina Jensen. (The two actually have the same married name…on account of being married to brothers.)
Tina is the mind behind JPA’s children’s dance program, which she translated into a preschool enrichment program called the Little Stars Learning Academy. For the last several years, she has been instrumental in running that program for the City of Milpitas at the Community Center. Meanwhile, they also teach anywhere from 5 to 10 different classes through the City; these take place at the studio.
“Tina’s more my partner than anything else,” said Patty, noting that her sister’s been working with her from the very beginning.
In fact, family appears to be at the very heart of what the Jensen School for the Performing Arts truly stands for.
All of Patty and Tina’s children literally grew up in the studio, taking dance classes there.
“The kids were what we call studio brats,” said Patty, whose twin daughters also teach at the school.
In fact, walking through the studio, it’s not uncommon to see families of several generations occupying the space.
One trio — daughter, mother, grandmother — had been taking classes at the studio for many years. It all started with Marcy Keith Balbas, who took her first dance class with Patty at the age of 5. This was almost 45 years ago, when Patty was teaching for a different studio near Milpitas. Several years later, when Patty moved into her current school space, it was only fitting that Marcy move along with her. She has been dancing there ever since, and now teaches Tap and Jazz to students ranging from infancy to adulthood. Although Marcy moved out of Milpitas years ago, and currently lives in Gilroy, she still comes out to the studio to teach 6 days a week.
In ‘77, her mother Jackie Keith started taking an adult dance class, at which point she was hooked as well.
And Marcy’s daughter, Sophia Balbas, a high school junior, started going to the studio even before she was born: “I was in her belly, dancing,” said Sophia. “As soon as I could take a single step, I started taking classes.”
Sophia joins her mother 6 days a week to practice in the studio. For her, not only is JPA a place where she gets to continue learning and growing as a dancer, but it’s a place where she can be with family — and even friends — whom she has been dancing with since she was a baby. In looking to the future and thinking of college, Sophia is certain that if she does decide to go away somewhere, it will be tough for her to part with her life at the studio.
At present, Jensen School for the Performing Arts has several hundred kids attending its classes.
“It’s been wonderful to see the growth,” said Tina. “It’s been scary during times when Silicon Valley has taken a dive. When people don’t make money, dance is the first thing they give up. But we just kept getting back on the bicycle and chugging away. And we made it.”
Jensen School for the Performing Arts
1491 N. Milpitas Blvd
Milpitas, CA 95035