Career Biography of Cynthia Merrill

Cynthia Merrill has been a resident of Fresno, California since 1970. She is the founder of the Cynthia Merrill School of Performing Arts in Fresno, California and was the school's artistic director from 1970 until March of 2006. In April of 2006 she founded her new company Cynthia Merrill Projects.

Cynthia comes from an extended family of educators, business people, dancers, visual artists and writers. She was born in Massachusetts, studied ballet and modern dance from age two through her university years and then went on to graduate school where she danced with the Austin Ballet. She received her Bachelor's degree at the University of Massachusetts and Mount Holyoke College and did her graduate work in dance, drama, and education at the University of Texas where she earned her Texas Elementary Teaching Credential. She taught 6th grade for two years in Texas, while teaching ballroom dance at the Arthur Murray Studio. After coming to Fresno she received her California Teaching Credential from California State University, Fresno. Her first employment was in the Clovis Unified School District as a Migratory Resource Teacher. At that time she developed a creative movement and drama program and a creative writing and etiquette curriculum for her migrant students. This program was so successful that all classroom teachers wanted  the program in their regular classrooms.

From there Cynthia went on to accept a teaching position at Fresno City College as a modern dance instructor. Enjoying her work with the adult students, she encouraged them to go to private studios to continue with their training only to find that the private studios didn't have classes for adult students. Seeing the need in the community, she rented studio space and started The Cynthia Merrill Dance Studio while still teaching at City College. At that time she was being asked to be a keynote speaker at different educational seminars, sharing with the teachers and administrators the importance of etiquette training in the classrooms, creativity in the classrooms and creative movement in their academic curriculum along with social dance and manners.

She was also invited to teach at Fresno State (through their Extension Division), workshops for teachers on introducing academic materials and manners to children through dance and creative movement. Fresno Unified School District hired her to be a demonstration teacher for summer workshops. Educators elected to take her class and watch her teach while she introduced them to creative movement materials and an etiquette curriculum to be used in the classroom   She was also the Dance Consultant for the Arts and Humanities program in Fresno Unified's Heaton Elementary. She was on the founding committee and citizens committee for Project Talent Bullard, Roosevelt School of Performing Arts (and more recently VASA ,Valley Arts and Science Academy).  She has directed the Fresno Civic Contemporary Dance Company under the auspices of the Fresno Dance Repertory Association. She has worked with and provided dance programs and Etiquette Workshops for the Metropolitan Museum, Friends of the Library, Girl Scouts and Sober Grad parties along with many other charity organizations.

Her life  early on included many hours in public and private schools working with children and motivating teachers to be more creative with their students. Her presence in the community as a specialist in children's dance and etiquette was  noticed  by many Fresno families who were asking her to teach their children. At that time she was only teaching college students and adults in her private studio. She began to research the available classes in Children's Dance and Etiquette in Fresno only to realize that the teachers of young children were not trained in child development or had even mentored under dance teachers who had been trained by specialists in children's dance. There was a great need in the valley for a school of dance, where there would be a creative approach to the curriculum, and a technical approach to dance, using both classical and contemporary formats, where manners, respect and gracious behavior were taught in the classroom. She took on the project of researching and developing a curriculum in dance and etiquette for the very young child (starting at age two) for private dance studios to use with their young students.

With the birth of her first son Cyrus, Cynthia seriously considered including children now in her established adult school. With a small group of friend's children she began her children's program. The year her son turned two she  taught the curriculum she had developed for the very young child. With media attention, the requests skyrocketed for her classes. She left her college teaching position and concentrated on the development of her school. Cynthia had already started dance schools in Amherst, Massachusetts and Austin, Texas (while she was in college) and the transition to starting a Fresno school for all ages was very enjoyable.

As her son Cyrus, and then her second son Nathaniel (Than) grew older, she added programs for their benefit: varied styles of dance, ethnic dance, visual art, music, gymnastics, musical theater, drama, foreign language, etiquette classes, Cotillion (ballroom dance and social etiquette) and the performance venue of story ballets (traditionally called garden ballets). Her sons grew and benefited  and enjoyed all the  classes in which  they were enrolled. When they both were pre-school age, she started an all morning program in the arts where their teachers were specialists in creative dance, music and visual art. By the time her second son was born, she had added gymnastics, creative dramatics and foreign language. The program was held at her dance facility. There was no other dance school in the United Stated to be found that offered such a program. When her sons were ages 10 to 18, Cynthia's introduced a Cotillion program of ballroom dance and  manners which became an immediate success.

With the continued growth of the school, the name was changed to the Cynthia Merrill School of Performing Arts and in January of 2000 the school moved to its current location, a facility of 16,000 square feet with its own theater and stage. The school continued to grow in enrollment and a staff of 45 teachers was needed for the 225 classes a week that were being offered. Back in the summer of 1976, Cynthia started her theater arts program of musicals and plays. Up to her retirement from the school in 2006, the school had produced 94 theatrical productions along with Cynthia having created and directed 19 original story ballets. The ballets were traditionally called garden ballets, because in the beginning, they were always performed in outside gardens and amphitheaters.


At the time of the move to the new facility in 2000, Cynthia took on partners with the intention of retiring and selling the school within six to ten years. In March of 2006 Cynthia retired from the school and opened her new business called Cynthia Merrill Projects. Under this umbrella organization Cynthia continues to teach her Cotillion Program of ballroom and contemporary dance, including manners for social occasions, the same program she started for her older son in 1981. Her etiquette workshops for both children and adults have expanded, her teaching positions in public education, public speaking engagements and  business consulting  have continued on as part of the organization called Cynthia Merrill Projects.
 Most recently she has added for valley businesses,  seminars in Business and Social Etiquette, Image and Communication.  High School Seminars and University programs in Interview Preparation, Dining Skills, Social and Business Etiquette have been very well attended. Cotillion Training Seminars and Etiquette Training Seminars for those adult who wish to start their own businesses teaching Cotillion and Etiquette have been requested. Consultation for other dance schools in how to produce a story ballet is also available.
Cynthia, being an Etiquette expert since 1981, had the opportunity to study in 2007  and  be certified  by the famous Gloria Star, CEO of Global Success Strategies, the Etiquette, Image and Communication trainer for the United States Pentegone, and teacher of world wide seminars from Dubai to King Abdullah's wife and children in Saudi Arabia, to Destiny's Child. Ms. Starr has had Cynthia teach  etiquette at two of her workshops.
In the spring of 2010, Cynthia Merrill was honored by Fresno City College as a teacher of diligent service and dedication to student success.
In 2007, Cynthia Merrill was honored to receive "The Central California Excellence in Business,  Hall of Fame  Award for her contribution to Central California in Business and for her many contributions to her community.
 In 2005, she was recognized as one of The Top Ten Business Professional Women of the year.