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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Parents still trust 'Aiea dance school

By Mike Gordon and Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writers

Parents of students at Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy in 'Aiea yesterday said they were shocked to learn that a former instructor at the academy has been charged with sexually assaulting four students.

Daniel Jones
But none interviewed yesterday said the allegations are enough to pull their children from the school.

"It's not going to stop me from bringing my daughter here. If he's guilty, it's one bad apple. Everyone else here is so good," said Kim Swartz, whose 7-year-old daughter has been taking ballet at the academy for nearly four years.

"This could happen anywhere — in school, in church," Swartz said. "My daughter is being raised Catholic but that doesn't mean if we stop going to church if something happens there."

Over the course of seven months, Daniel E. Jones, a former principal performer and instructor at the Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy, is accused of engaging in sexual relations with four teenage students, all girls, according to a court affidavit. Jones, 20, of an 'Ohelo Lane address, was charged Sunday with four counts of first-degree sex assault and 13 counts of third-degree sex assault.

He was released after posting $50,000 bail.

Several other parents dropping young children off yesterday for ballet classes at the academy, housed in a three-story building at 99-153 Moanalua Road, ignored posted signs from owner Rosalie Woodson informing them of the incident.

"Things like this happen all over the place," Liz Kiehm said. "As parents, we need to spend more time with the instructors, watching our children. But what would be very, very upsetting to me if it's true is that a trust was broken. It would be an awful feeling, more than hurt, if that happened. Who then can you trust?"

Parent Melissa Layden added, "We're shocked to hear about it. I knew him enough to be friendly. It's a tragedy. ... Everybody on both sides will be affected however it shakes out."

The allegations against Jones, contained in the 11-page affidavit, are every parent's worst nightmare.

The students allegedly were assaulted at various locations, including the 'Aiea dance academy, a public park and in their own homes. In every case, Jones had known them since they were 5 years old. One of them is 13 and three are 14.

Police began investigating Jones on March 29.

Jones will plead not guilty to charges tomorrow at his appearance in District Court, said his lawyer, Myron Takemoto.

"There's a lot of publicity, obviously negative publicity, and we don't want him being tried in the media," Takemoto said. "What I can say is that an overwhelming number of people are coming forward in support of Daniel. He's 20 years old and has never been in trouble before. The family is feeling a tremendous amount of negativity."

Jones has not worked at the dance studio "for a while," said Takemoto, who late last year left the Honolulu prosecutor's office, where he worked sexual assault cases the past two years as a deputy prosecutor. He said he did not know when Jones left the academy, or why.

A sign posted yesterday at the academy read: "No comment. We will call police."

Also posted were signs, dated yesterday and signed by Woodson, addressed to parents and guardians telling them the safety and well-being of children are a priority at the academy. The signs also state that Jones has been formally charged with a crime. "Unfortunately, Miss Woodson and the staff at Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy are unable to discuss any aspects of the case," the signs said.

Interviews with one of his accusers about alleged crimes dating back to last summer led investigators to three other victims, according to court papers.

Jones had known one of the students, who was 12 at the time of the alleged crime, for eight years.

On Aug. 8, 2004, they were in a tent while camping with others at Kualoa Regional Park. The court papers say Jones fondled the girl and forced her to fondle him.

The court papers allege that Jones engaged in sexual activity with the girl several times through March 18 "in the office or other room of the dance academy" while they were alone.

The second alleged victim identified in the court papers, a 14-year-old girl, also knew Jones for much of her life. She told police that on Feb. 6 and 13 she was alone with Jones in the entertainment room of her Kane'ohe home. Jones is alleged to have fondled her on both occasions.

The third victim interviewed by police is also 14, but Jones is alleged to have fondled her shortly before her birthday. The girl told police that she was alone in her 'Ewa Beach home with Jones twice in February.

The final victim interviewed by police, a 14-year-old girl, told investigators that she was alone with Jones in the dance academy office on Feb. 4 when Jones allegedly fondled her. Later that month, Jones allegedly escorted her into the dance academy bathroom and fondled her again, the court papers said.

All four victims identified Jones from a photographic line-up, the papers said.

The allegations are shocking to local dance studio operators and instructors, many of whom do not know Jones but believe he should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

"I would caution people not to overreact," said Betsy Fisher, University of Hawai'i-Manoa professor of dance who does not know Jones. "It's an accusation and if it didn't happen, it completely destroys someone's reputation.

"It's unusual for something like this to happen but certainly, it's happened before and will happen again," Fisher added. "It happened with priests. I think people can feel safe sending their children to dance classes."

Several dance studio owners said that maintaining a safe teaching environment with clearly identified boundaries for students and instructors is of paramount importance.

But Ed Nix, owner of Nix Performing Arts Center in 'Aiea and a dance teacher locally for 15 years, also says that he does not know of any school, his included, that does an in-depth background check on teachers.

"We never have, but we carefully interview our teachers and if I wanted to do a background check on someone or had concerns about hiring someone, I probably wouldn't hire them in the first place," Nix said.

Nix employs about a dozen instructors, five of whom are men.

Current laws make it difficult for employers to learn much about a potential hire, Nix said.

"Today's laws prohibit a previous employer from saying certain things," he said. "You're kind of stuck."

Studio owners often hire longtime students whom they trust, said Maika Woods, co-owner of N2Dance in Honolulu.

Woods said he and his wife are picky about whom they hire. Currently, they only have one instructor to help them.

"We don't just hire anyone," he said. "We have standards. When we look at an individual, we look at their talent but we also look at their morals and values."

Nix said studio owners can protect themselves by creating open studios where parents can see their children during classes. He said his studio has lots of windows, but he once considered using cameras to monitor classes. He said it is legal as long as you post a sign.

He also does not allow instructors to fraternize with students outside the school and there is a strict rule against teenage students sitting on an instructor's lap, he said.

At N2Dance, Woods and his wife teach most of the classes in the school, he said.

"We make it a point to never be alone around kids," he said. "It protects the children and everyone involved. It is better to be more safe than not enough safe."

Not all studios allow parents to stay and watch their child's class, Woods said. But allowing that creates trust, he said.

At Drill Team Hawaii, co-owner Penny Young said she allows for limited parental oversight.

"I don't have parents sit in our classes and I think that is because they trust us," she said. "But I always tell parents that if there is a concern, they are allowed to come and watch."

When she sends her students to an outside instructor for an extra class, she encourages parents to monitor the class, Young said.

The recent allegations put a stain on the entire community of dance and performing arts schools, Young said.

"I think nine out of 10 times instructors I know on this island are very, very qualified and very, very particular about what they teach and who they have teaching," Young said.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012. Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8181.