A local dance studio is being put under a spotlight after feeding one of its young dancers cat food, and the Bergren family — of Windermere — is furious.
The incident occurred during a team lock-in event hosted by the Horizon West-based Creative Soles Dance Company Saturday, Jan. 23, when dance students returned to the studio — following time at a local movie theater — for fun and games.
According to Jennifer Bergren, studio owner Elizabeth Mico called her between 11 p.m. and midnight and told her that her 10-year-old daughter, Kayla, was fed cat food during a food challenge game where students had to guess what they were being given. The cat food, Jennifer Bergren was told, was meant for an older student.
“My wife and I are still trying to process it and deal with it,” Frank Bergren said. “We can’t fathom how somebody could consciously do this, and there is just no right from this wrong that has occurred.
“They loved this place — this has been their safe space, dance is their thing, and they’ve been there for years,” he said of his two daughters.
When Frank Bergren picked his daughters up, Mico apologized, but after leaving, he asked both Kayla and Lauren, 11, what happened.
Lauren said Kayla was sat down in a chair, used her face mask as a blind fold and was fed the cat food out of a cup by an instructor. She said another instructor gave a different student a dog biscuit. She also said the instructor who fed Kayla the cat food asked Mico, “Do I put it in her mouth?” Mico responded “yes” before Kayla was fed the cat food, Frank Bergren said.
The frustration continued into the following day, when the Bergrens and Mico exchanged texts and phone calls. During one of those phone calls, Mico asked the Bergrens if they would be more comfortable if she removed the two instructors from the class — while letting them stay on for recreational classes — which was met with criticism and the changing of the narrative, Frank Bergren said.
“We wanted the studio to just be honest and tell us what happened so we could figure out how to move forward with it and make decisions for ourselves based on that, and we couldn’t get there,” Frank Bergren said. “Basically after the first phone call that we had, there was no denial — there’s never been a denial of the event. The only change in the story was who did it.”
The following day — Monday, Jan. 25 — the Bergrens filed a police report against Mico and instructor Madison Shifflett, the woman who Lauren said had fed her sister cat food. Since then, the Bergrens have pulled their daughters out of the school and have met with the Department of Child Services. Most recently, they spoke with an investigator looking into the case.
Attorney Joseph Fitos, of Orlando-based Gray-Robinson, is representing Creative Soles Dance Company.
“We feel like this was a situation where it was just a kid’s game where somebody’s feelings got hurt, and it’s a shame,” Fitos said. “We hate to see that, of course — the whole purpose of these events is they are team-building events. … It’s just unfortunate that this young lady was upset. ... As far as this being a situation that is worthy of the attention that it’s been getting, because of the way that the parents have reacted, we don’t think that it has got any merit.”