From On Stage to Backstage
By Hal de Becker
When two young dancers, Joan Palethorpe and Steve Becker, met while performing in Frederic Apcar’s legendary “Casino de Paris” at the late Dunes Hotel, little did they know that they would become partners in life, and in a business which would itself become a Las Vegas legend: Backstage Dance Studio.
Joan began dancing at the Dunes in the highly successful lounge show, “Vive Les Girls,” before moving to the major ‘Casino’ production where she became, in addition to a lead dancer, assistant to the brilliant choreographer, Ron Lewis.
She’d been trained as a ballet dancer at England’s Royal Ballet School, but was more drawn to jazz. When Sir Cliff Richard (the first British pop-rock star to be knighted) invited her to join his show for a tour of Europe, she accepted, and eventually danced her way to America and the Las Vegas Strip.
Although, Steve had studied architecture as well as dance, he couldn’t resist an invitation to join the ‘Casino’ show where, with his talent and good looks, he was a standout -- especially for Joan.Their mutual desire to travel together persuaded them to accept engagements in Europe, including one on the French Riviera.They later returned to Las Vegas to resume their local careers.
By then, Joan had discovered her talent for choreography and began choreographing shows around the world, sometimes with Steve’s assistance.Among her other current assignments she is the choreographer of the famous “Palm Springs Follies.”
Eventually, the young couple decided they wanted to own a dance school in Las Vegas. A few years earlier Joan had acquired an ownership interest in a small school on East Sahara named Backstage Studio which catered to professional performers.In 1985 she and Steve made the leap and became its co-owners. In the beginning they taught the jazz classes and the ballet teachers included the late and much beloved Elise Vallee as well as ‘yours truly’. A list of all the illustrious teachers and famed performers associated with the school reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the international dance scene and would require too many pages to name them all.
By 1992, Steve and Joan could no longer ignore the numerous requests for Backstage to accept children. Time and space at the Sahara location were fully occupied by adult students, so they rented a separate facility across from UNLV for the youngsters and later even renovated a former church by enlarging the rooms and installing ballet barres and mirrors.
Tired of all the moving, Steve, the dancer who might have been an architect, began designing a school that would accommodate all the students under one roof.He and Joan dreamed that it would consist of three studios, one of which should be at least 2000 square feet for the larger classes as well as being available for big auditions and show rehearsals.It should also have a high ceiling to allow space for scenery, lights and props. There would be viewing windows into the studios; spacious dressing rooms; the best heating and air conditioning; and a rest and refreshment area. Classes in ballet, jazz, modern, exercise, hip hop, tumbling and more would be offered and be conducted only by the very best instructors.They would produce annual performances to give younger students the opportunity to collaborate with adult professionals. It was indeed a ‘dream’ project.
However, in 1996, after two years of construction and preparation, the dream became a reality and they were able to close the East Sahara studio and move the school into the new ‘state of the art’ facility.For many dance aspirants, the school has become a road to both personal and career fulfillment. Even the street on which it is located has been officially and appropriately re-named “Backstage Boulevard.”