By Bianca Fortis
Despite never having been a professional dancer, Ben Hahn has devoted most of his life to those who are.
“I love the arts as an audience member,” the 67-year-old said.
Together with his wife Deborah, a professional dancer who was in “A Chorus Line” in 1982, Hahn owns The Dance Shop, a dancewear store in Fresh Meadows.
In the 1970s, the Hahns owned a dance studio and realized students had to travel to Manhattan for their gear. So in 1977, they opened their store.
The shop regularly sees customers from all over the New York metro area. One customer, Hahn said, came to the store from Massachusetts. Customers also range widely in age and reflect the ethnic diversity of Queens.
He said he even has had some famous customers, including Altovise Davis, the third wife of Sammy Davis Jr., and Pepa of the hip-hop trio Salt-n-Pepa.
He chalks that up to his large inventory. The store carries most major brands, from Capezio and Bloch to Sansha and Mirella.
The store has dance and footwear for almost any form of dance, including ballet, tap, flamenco and belly dancing. It also sells praise and liturgical dancewear for church which, Hahn said, is becoming increasingly popular.
All the members of the sales staff are involved in dance in some way, as former or current dancers or teachers. That is the first requirement for a job at the store, Hahn said. This ensures staff members are knowledgeable about what dancers need.
This is especially important for footwear like toe shoes, which must be carefully fitted lest a dancer hurt herself while en pointe.
“They can’t be a little too hot or a little too cold,” Hahn said about the way dance shoes must fit. “They have to be like Goldilocks.”
When he was in his 30s, Hahn enrolled in ballet classes to learn the needs of dancers firsthand, but he quit after a year and a half.
“I wasn’t proficient,” he said.
But he did learn a few lessons.
“I learned why you need a good fitting slipper, so you don’t slip on your tour jetés,” he said.
Over the years, Hahn has faced many of the challenges of running a small business. One of these is keeping up to date with trends and styles. Another is competition from the Internet and bigger stores.
“In 1977, nobody was open on Sunday, not Macy’s — nobody,” he said. “Now they’re open on Christmas, they’re open on Thanksgiving. It’s such a competitive landscape on that level.”
As for the rewards that have come with his 36-year-old business, Hahn immediately mentions the people he works with.
“Be they rich or poor, they’re all interested in the art,” he said. “They’re either doing something for themselves, or they’re doing something for their children. But they’re generally people that are giving and see more to life than the mundane that so many people have to deal with.”
The Dance Shop is at 188-06 Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows. For more information, visit danceshopqueens.com.
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.