Ashtabula native returns home takes over dance studio

Jun. 11—ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — Scott DeCola saw his life change dramatically when he started dancing at the Ashtabula Arts Center at the age of 14.

DeCola climbed to the apex of the professional dance world and looked to use his experience to help young dancers reach their potential when he returned to northeastern Ohio in 2013.

DeCola had a 10-year dance career, during which he traveled the world and performed in 26 countries and for many years lived in New York City.

"I remember a roof party across the street from where the [New Year's Eve] ball dropped," DeCola said.

DeCola got his start at the AAC through the tutelage of Shelagh Dubsky and was able to earn a variety of scholarships during his high school years that found him in a variety of major cities honing his craft each summer.

That hard work eventually led to him earning a contract to dance professionally with the Ohio Ballet in Akron. He also performed for the Joffrey Ballet II and Les Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

While living and dancing in New York City, DeCola also experienced the terror of 9/11 firsthand. He said the dancers were already working on routines early on that Sept. 11, 2001, morning, and each dance studio's music stopped playing, room by room, as it became clear the first tower had been struck by a plane.

As the studio was evacuated, DeCola said he went outside with other dancers and four blocks away saw the terror attack continue to unfold. "I saw the second plane hit [the second tower]," he said of the tragedy that changed New York and the world forever.

He said he was living in Brooklyn at the time but couldn't get home, so he walked 100 blocks in sandals to a one bedroom apartment where six people stayed until the subway systems were running again several days later.

DeCola said he lived in New York City for a decade. "I loved city life, until I didn't," he said. He said he decided to come back to northeast Ohio and taught in the Cleveland area.

In 2013 DeCola met Mary Murtha, who started drill team and dance classes in Monroe Elementary School in 1980 and continually expanded the operation till it became the Wildfire Dance Studio.

The pair met through a mutual friend, Kathy Zappitello, who has worked with Wildfire for many years.

The mutually beneficial professional relationship has grown during the last nine years. DeCola started teaching a few classes and was able to use his dance technique expertise to change the studio.

The dual efforts of Murtha and DeCola also enriched the lives of hundreds of girls who now compete all over the country on an annual basis.

The relationship grew to the point where DeCola came to an agreement with Murtha and purchased the studio last fall. Murtha continued to work throughout the year and plans to remain connected to the operation in some way.

DeCola is on the board of directors for the U.S. All Star Federation Club Cheer and Dance. The Wildfire Dance Studio sent 12 competitive teams to the world competition recently in Florida.

The competitive teams competed in three regional qualifiers in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Erie before earning their spots at the world championships with four different routines.

The pair's strengths led to a more comprehensive dance experience for local dancers and led to the growth of a competitive dance program that is now at the heart of the Wildfire Dance Studio.

Murtha said her expertise has always been in choreography without any formal dance training, while DeCola had immense amount of training in the details of dance technique.

Murtha said there are teams from 23 different countries. "It is a dance experience like no other," she said.