Former Callanwolde dance instructors got served with lawsuit

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt September 21, 2016

Two former dance instructors at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center are the targets of a lawsuit alleging they started a business to compete with their former employer.

Former instructors Kelly Dent and Jennilee Green are now owners of Dance Foundry in Decatur. A post on the company’s Facebook page said the lawsuit is a problem of Callanwolde’s own making.

“The Callanwolde Foundation says its decision to file suit was made after a drop in enrollment,” a post on Dance Foundry’s Facebook page says. “The drop followed The Callanwolde Foundation’s decision to cease offering the internationally renowned Royal Academy of Dance® and changes to longstanding dance traditions and management that our community and our students have enjoyed for years.”

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The instructors were served with notice of the lawsuit this week while teaching a dance class at a local church. They accused Callanwolde of “upsetting students by having legal process served in front of them.”

Callanwolde’s attorney shared a video of the incident – these things are routinely recorded in case it becomes an issue at trial – and it does not appear to show students in visible distress at the site of a man serving their instructors with notice of the lawsuit. The process server whispers that he’s trying to be “discrete” while asking one instructor to sign a document acknowledging she was notified of the lawsuit.

Decaturish was not provided a copy of the video for publication. Callanwolde also served the instructors with a “cease and desist” letter prior to filing the lawsuit.

Green and Dent voluntarily resigned their positions at Callanwolde at the beginning of the summer, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit also says Green and Dent signed nondisclosure and non solicitation agreements that prevent them from soliciting students of Callanwolde’s dance programs.

Dance Foundry’s attorney, David Moore, said the conflict between the instructors and Callanwolde stemmed from Callanwolde’s decision to stop staging the Nutcracker during the holidays, a popular show. Dance Foundry was started at the urging of parents, he said. They contributed to a Go Fund Me account to help launch the business. The account has raised over $8,000.

Callanwolde’s lawsuit doesn’t dispute that the Fine Arts Center’s enrollment has dropped. The lawsuit alleges it was because Dance Foundry used proprietary information to target parents who had enrolled at Callanwolde.

“The lawsuit also alleges that these women, both high-level employees, used Callanwolde time and resources to plan a competing venture, and that they then spread rumors about the demise of Callanwolde’s dance program in advance of leaving in order to make it easier to recruit the parents of these dance students,” Callanwolde attorney David Gevertz told Decaturish.

The lawsuit seeks attorneys’ fees and other damages stemming from the alleged breach of the nondisclosure and non solicitation agreements.

The post on the Dance Foundry Facebook page said the lawsuit is intended to force Dent and Green to “stop teaching dance in our community” and that the nonprofit seeks funds obtained through the Go Fund Me campaign.

Gevertz said that is not the case.

“Rather, as a plain reading of the Complaint reveals, Callanwolde simply demands that these two ladies stop soliciting its customers, and that they reimburse it for the unlawful profits they stand to gain from taking its customers and the costs Callanwolde incurs to file suit after they rejected its settlement invitation,” he said. “Nothing more.”

Read more: Decaturish has obtained several documents associated with this case.

Here is the full statement from Dance Foundry to parents, posted on the company’s Facebook page. 

Supporting the Right to Dance!

Yesterday, The Callanwolde Foundation, Inc. filed suit against Dance Foundry, LLC and its founders, Kelly Oakes Dent and Jennilee Garcia Green. The Callanwolde Foundation says its decision to file suit was made after a drop in enrollment. The drop followed The Callanwolde Foundation’s decision to cease offering the internationally renowned Royal Academy of Dance® and changes to longstanding dance traditions and management that our community and our students have enjoyed for years. The Callanwolde Foundation seeks to have Kelly and Jennilee stop teaching dance in our community, and are asking for money generously donated to the Dance Foundry’s GoFundMe account (https://www.gofundme.com/2gnyvz8), and even more (including paying The Callanwolde Foundation’s attorney fees for one of the largest law firms in the world).

Dance Foundry’s commitment is to our dance students. Kelly Oakes Dent is certified in Royal Academy of Dance®, known as RAD. The Callanwolde Foundation does not appear to have any dance teacher certified in RAD programs. Our program is committed to the proven and established RAD method used at the highest level of our art. Students from the RAD program have excelled in dance all over the world, and Kelly and Jennilee’s students have been accepted to advanced summer programs such as the American Ballet Theater.

We are encouraging The Callanwolde Foundation, which enjoys tax deductible, non-profit status and uses the DeKalb County-owned Callanwolde historic buildings owned by all of us, to act in the best interests of the children and community. Giving parents and students the choice to take RAD from a certified instructor is important to our community and our children’s future in dance, whether they wish to dance professionally, in college and secondary institutions, or for their own health and enjoyment. We must all rise above the threats, lawsuits, and attempts to interrupt or stop RAD training.

Last night, The Callanwolde Foundation’s attorneys interrupted a children’s dance class, upsetting students by having legal process served in front of them. All would agree such tactics are deplorable, and indicate disregard for the children’s dance education. Dance Foundry’s vision is what is in the best interests of its students, and we will be contacting The Callanwolde Foundation to ask them to stop interrupting dance classes, and to stop trying to take away your choice of dance education and the RAD program. Several students and parents have also contacted The Callanwolde Foundation to ask them to stop the threats, explaining their concerns regarding the changes in the dance program and their right to choice in dance instruction which has lead to the success of Dance Foundry. Our collective voices have been ignored by The Callanwolde Foundation, which is intent to try to close Dance Foundry down.

Defending the right to dance may be difficult, but it is right. We choose to dance! We support the Right to Dance. We believe in your right to choice in dance education, and will defend students’ right to uninterrupted joy and dance education. Dance Foundry plans to continue on to offer the highest quality, caring RAD certified dance programs. No lawsuit can undo the changes in the dance program by The Callanwolde Foundation, no lawsuit can certify instructors in RAD without the years of work required to achieve that high level of dance education, or change what has happened regarding management of the dance program. Dance Foundry supports The Callanwolde Foundation’s offering of alternative dance programs and we support The Callanwolde Foundation students, and wish them the best, but we must support the right to dance for all!

Dance Foundry is a minority and woman owned business enterprise, seeking certification from the Small Business Administration.

Visit our website at http://www.dancefoundry.com/righttodance

Here is the letter from Callanwolde to staff and students notifying them of the nonprofit’s intent to pursue litigation. 

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Here is a copy of the lawsuit:

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About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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