Astoria Characters: The Cousins Who Are Like Sisters

When they were growing up, Elena Toumaras-Kampouris and Stephanie Jerome-Narlis had one all-abiding dream: They wanted to – no, they were determined to –open a dance school.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Stephanie, left, and Elena grew up together.

The cousins – their mothers are sisters – are as close as sisters, and they look so much alike that it’s easy to think they are, indeed, siblings.

They spent a lot of time together, much of it in Astoria, which they say still feels like home, so it was a simple matter for them to put their serious thoughts and drawings about their future venture in a schoolgirl’s notebook.

Opening a dance school didn’t seem like a preposterous idea.

After all, they each took dancing lessons and loved the freedom the movement gave them to express themselves.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Elena has degrees in nutrition.

Stephanie started at 5, and Elena, the elder by three years, began at 9.

Jazz, ballroom, hip-hop, tap, they did it all, with Stephanie taking it seriously enough to enter and win competitions.

It was, they agree, a way to make them feel safe in their own skins.

“When I dance,” Stephanie says, “I feel the music and the rhythm pulsing through me – it makes all the stress go away. Dance got me through everything.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Stephanie studied business.

She starts tearing up – as a teen, she worked out the sorrow of her father’s death on the dance floor.

Elena adds that “it’s therapy. Everyone is born a dancer in his own way. We want our students to grow an appreciation of the art beyond the bedroom, beyond the kitchen.”

As the years went by, Elena and Stephanie, of course, developed other priorities and pursuits.

Yet they kept dancing around the idea of opening their school.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Reflexion’s youngest students are 3.

Elena, who is 34 and has two young children who are just about ready to start dancing, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition, while Stephanie, who is 31, got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business.

“We kept talking about the dance school a lot,” Stephanie says. “And then suddenly, it hit us: We should just get started.”

In 2015, they took the big step and opened Reflexion Dance in Astoria.

They settled into their current location, on Ditmars Boulevard at 45th Street, in 2021.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A picture colored by summer-camp students.

“We don’t just teach dance,” Elena says. “We teach confidence – in everything.”

Stephanie nods in agreement, adding that “we’re helping our students reach their dance goals – whether that is to have fun or to enter competitions.”

The partners’ ideals are embodied in the school’s name.

Reflexion is a play on words – flex is a nod to the fitness classes the cousins originally taught, and reflection refers to gazing into a mirror, seeing the outward image while looking inward.

“You can interpret our name your own way,” Stephanie says. “You can see what you want to be.”

Elena surprises Stephanie by bringing out the original notes that led to the founding of the school.

The cute schoolgirl drawings, in colored pencil on ruled paper, bring back a flood of memories.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The notes that led to the school’s establishment.

 Remember this? Remember when? Oh my gosh …

They start chatting and laughing – it’s like this every day, nonstop.

They agree that they really should think about getting these papers framed.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
They feel more like sisters than cousins.

Wouldn’t it be cool to hang them up in the studio?

Even when they are not teaching classes or working at the school, Stephanie and Elena devote all of their free time to Reflexion.

“The administrative work never ends,” Stephanie says happily. “There’s never a time cap.”

Being dancers, Elena and Stephanie know that timing is everything, which is why they are carefully considering the next step for Reflexion.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Stephanie and Elena always find the fun.

They have no hard and fast plans – yet.

But they know this won’t be their only dance.

“We want to be the best we can possibly be before expanding,” Stephanie says, adding that everything she and Elena do “is always for our students.”

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling